GUERNICA AND THE CARTOON FOR THE TAPESTRY
Guernica is a unique work and among the most renowned masterpieces in the world. Perhaps, it is also the most documented work of history.
Guernica is the name of a Spanish village with a sad record, as it was the first urban area that suffered aerial bombing, on 26 April 1937, by the German military aviation. The operation was cynically decided by the Nazi military command to support the war efforts of Francoist nationalists in their Biscay offensive to overthrow the remaining pockets loyal to the government of the Spanish Republic. Guernica was not a war zone; the operation was a mere exercise of power and an act of intimidation that caused the death of innocent women and children.
When such most heinous crime was brought to public knowledge, Picasso was involved in the painting of a work that would represent Spain at the Paris World Expo of 1937. He therefore decided to depict the atrocity of the Guernica bombing. Its size is huge (around 3.5 x 8 metres) and was completed in a few days, although it was preceded by a long preparatory phase when Picasso drew as many as 45 sketches, which have all survived to date. Over the years, the work became a symbol of peace speaking out against the atrocities of war, any war.
The story goes that, when a Nazi officer saw the painting, he asked Picasso: “Did you do this horror, sir?” and the artist answered “No, you did.“
The cartoon inspired by the oil painting was drawn on 6 strips of wrapping paper as wide as its frame, to be used as a pattern for the tapestry to be woven. Today this tapestry is kept at the UN headquarters. The cartoon is also the first of a set of 26 cartoon replicas for as many tapestries, a unique project in the 20th century art. Picasso signed all the cartoon replicas and the tapestries beside the logo of Cavalaire, the workshop of Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach, the ingenious artist “with golden fingers” who was able to “weave paintings”, i.e. turn them into tapestries. Her extraordinary ability impressed Picasso, who decided that only the Dürrbach family would be authorised to turn his works into tapestries and he would also order some for himself, including Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. When he saw the result of the weaver’s work, he observed: “Your woven Demoiselles are nicer than those I painted.”