Visting Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid

Today I arrived in Madrid, the Spanish capital and third largest city in Europe. Once seen as Barcelona’s poor relation, this place really is a must-see, with a dazzling array of beautiful buildings, parks and palaces.

It’s also home to Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, my favourite artwork bar none. Celebrating its 80th anniversary, the Sofia has dedicated an entire wing to the history of this most magisterial of anti-war statements. 

It’s vast, it’s huge, it’s a thing of breathtaking beauty. Standing at 3.49 metres (11 ft 5 in) tall and 7.76 metres (25 ft 6 in) wide, the painting is so enormous in size and message that the moment I first set eyes on it I let out an audible gasp.

Pablo Picasso created the painting at his Paris home on the Rue des Grands Augustins in response to the Spanish Civil War and in particular, the brutal bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Italian warplanes at the request of General Franco’s Spanish Nationalists. It shows the suffering of people and animals wrenched by violence and chaos. Prominent in the composition are a gored horse, a bull, and flames.

With the rise of Trump, Putin and Brexit, Guernica is a powerful, political reminder of anti-fascist anti-nationalist sentiment which, sadly, feels as relevant today as it would have done in 1937. On a side note: if you visit use your phone carefully. Photography is banned throughout the entire exhibition (they have three eagle-eyed members of staff guarding the main mural alone), though not in the rest of the museum. As if that was ever gonna stop me and my feet.

Steve Pafford

First published: Facebook, July 2017

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