Critique of Picasso Painting Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2115 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

¶ … Picasso Painting

Critique of Pablo Picasso's "Guernica"

Dimensions: 3.5 metre (11 ft) tall and 7.8 metre (23 ft) wide

Medium: Oil on canvas

First exhibited in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition

This painting by Picasso is described as "... modern art's most powerful antiwar statement... "(Guernica: Testimony of War). My interest in this painting is in the first instance to discover why it is so revered and widely discussed and what makes it important in terms of the development of modern art. In terms of the appreciation of the painting as a work of art, the painting is particularly intriguing in the way that Picasso uses monochromic colors to depict this event.

From another related point-of-view, what is fascinating about Guernica is the subject matter and the significance of the painting on a social as well as aesthetic level. The way that Picasso brings to life and expresses the suffering and the horror of war, through the use of muted tones and in the composition of his figurative and more abstract elements in the painting, is profoundly moving. I also feel that the painting is not only about a particular historical event but is a moving and incisive comment on all wars and acts of aggression in human history.

2. Historical Context

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The subject matter of this painting refers to an actual historical event that took place. In April of 1937, the Basque town of Guernica was almost completely destroyed by German bombing planes, acting on behalf of General Franco (Larrea 11). As one commentator notes of the actual events that the painting depicts, "Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded" (Guernica: Testimony of War).

Term Paper on Critique of Picasso Painting Assignment

During this time, the republican forces in Spain who were loyal to the government that had been recently elected were being attacked by the fascist supporters of Generalissimo Francisco Franco (Guernica: Testimony of War). The attack was therefore motivated by Franco as an act of aggression against the republicans. The extent of the massacre and destruction of innocent people in the small Basque town profoundly shocked Picasso and he began to paint the large mural as a response to the horror of this event and as a sign of his protest. He had in fact been approached by the representatives of the democratic government of the county to enlist his fame as an artist in the depiction of this crime. (Larrea 11) While Picasso was not particularly interested in political art, the gravity of the situation affected him deeply and he began work on the two days after the actual event. (Larrea 11)

3. Influences and Motivations

The influences that affected Picasso are wide-ranging and impossible to categorize and define in a few lines. These influences range from the works of the classical masters, to the impressionists and the surrealists. Picasso is well-known to have varied his style according to different influences that affected him at different periods of his artistic career. In Guernica at least two prior influences can be seen in the composition and the style of the painting. One is the influence of his cubist phase and is easily discernable in the overlapping areas and the interpenetration of various figurative elements. The influence of surrealism is also evident in the figures and in areas do the work.

In essence, Picasso was concerned with depicting and exploring the concrete word around him. In terms of the motivation for this particular painting, the event of the attack on the small town of Guernica inspired Picasso to create a work of art that reflected the horror that he and others felt.

The influence that Picasso has had on others and on modern artists and movements is incalculable. There is hardly a single major modern artist who does not profess to have befitted from the creative innovation and artistic daring that is evident in Picasso's works.

4. Artistic Process central aspect of this work that affected the artistic process is the large size of the canvas, which measured 3.5 by 7.8 meters. (Boeck, and Sabartes 225) This size therefore necessitates a process of intense composition and sketching before the final process resulted in the completed work. The painting underwent numerous revisions until Picasso was satisfied with the structure and the general composition of the work. (Larrea 11)

Like many other artists, Picasso did not believe that a painting could be planned in its entirety, but that that it changes in the actual process of painting. As he stated; "A painting is not thought out and settled in advance...While it is being done, it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it's finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it."(Guernica: Testimony of War) the medium that was used was oil paint on canvas.

5. Formal Critique

This is an extremely large painting, measuring 11 feet 6 inches by 25 feet 8 inches. (Boeck, and Sabartes 225) the size of this work is not arbitrary but relates directly to its motivation and intention, which is to create an artwork that adequately depicts or presents the horror of the attack on Guernica. Furthermore, the painting is more than only a representation of a certain historical moment. The style, figuration as well as symbolic and structural elements are all intended to evoke the horror of war and suffering - which is a theme far greater then a single event and refers to the horror of war in the twentieth century and even in human history.

In terms of the figurative elements, the painting depicts on the right side of the work a woman falling from a burning house and another women is fleeing to the center of the painting in obvious pain. On the left side of the work, a woman and dead child are depicted, as well as the broken figure of a fallen warrior. The center of the canvas is possibly the most riveting area and brings together the various figurative aspects. Central to this area if the image of a dying horse that has been impaled by a spear. There are many other figurative aspects, such as the bull and all interact with the style and structure to provide a dramatic and almost visceral impact on the viewer.

The sense of drama, death and suffering is also enhanced and reinforced by the choice of color, which is complemented by the use of line in the general composition. The essential composition is triangular, with the centre of the main triangle at the point of the electric bulb. This structure tends to focus attention on the symbol of the dying horse and provides support for the other figures in the painting.

In terms of style, there is little modeling and the drawings are essentially flat and two dimensional - which gives the painting an eerie and almost unreal atmosphere. This again serves to enhance the central theme and aims of the painting. However, this does not mean that there is no depth or sense of space in the painting. On the contrary, Picasso succeeds in the subtle use of line and color to create a painting that has great depth and space. This aspect is also enhanced by the negative and positive shapes. In areas of the painting the negative and positive shapes tend to complement one another to create an impression of complexity and depth that counteracts any flatness in the two dimensional drawings. (Larrea 11)

Also contributing to the feel of space, depth and drama is the subtle use of monochromic color. The painting is rendered in black and white. However, there are variations of tone and shades of light and darks in the greys of the painting. As one study of the painting notes,

The painting is not, however, devoid of delicate coloristic effects, since there is a subtle contrast between the diluted yellowish tonality of the natural canvas and the sometimes blue-gray mixture of black and white pigments, on the one hand, and the whitegray-black scale of the background, on the other hand.

Boeck, and Sabartes 226)

These tonal shifts in the use of color from warm to cool can be seen in, for example, the warm effects in the bulb and in the white lamp and in the contrast between the hair of the screaming woman and her greyish - blue skin tones.

The use of color therefore functions to provide the depth, space and drama in the work from a technical point-of-view. The use of black and white also has a more symbolic function in that the choice of these basic colors serves to highlight the seriousness of the topic. The use or a monochrome palette is also used so that color does not detract from the subject of war, horror and suffering. It is also worth noting that Picasso would have seen images of the attack on the town… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Critique of Picasso Painting.  (2008, April 28).  Retrieved April 11, 2021, from

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"Critique of Picasso Painting."  April 28, 2008.  Accessed April 11, 2021.