Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against...

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against Fascism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso is perhaps the most famous of the Spanish painters and certainly the one that most people of this modern era remember. He was born in 1881 in the city of Malaga in southern Spain. His father was an art teacher and young Pablo began drawing in earnest from the tender age of eight. He wanted to be able to be amongst the greats of Spanish art such as Velázquez or El Greco but there was a problem – he just could not get the composition of his paintings right.

Picasso As a Young Man

At the age of 17, he moved to Barcelona and became part of the avant-garde group there developing his style under the influence of the likes of Antoni Gaudi. He went through a series of different styles, known as the ‘Rose Period’ and then the ‘Blue period, the latter caused by the suicide of his close friend Carlos Casamegas. Although the ‘Blue Period’ did have to do with his state of mind, Picasso was also experimenting with the use of low light in the style of El Greco. From 1906, his style changed again, this time with an influence from Africa before developing into the style for which he is most famous, that of Cubism, which marked the start of abstract art.

The Bombing of Guernica

One of his most famous paintings is that of the bombing by German and Italian planes, under orders from General Franco, of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The bombing took place on April 26 1937. Figures vary as to the number of people killed and injured. In an article written in the Times Newspaper on April 27 1937, the un-named correspondent describes the horror of the scene, “When I entered Guernica after midnight houses were crashing on either side, and it was utterly impossible even for firemen to enter the centre of the town. The hospitals of Josefinas and Convento de Santa Clara were glowing heaps of embers, all the churches except that of Santa Maria were destroyed and the few houses that still stood were doomed.”

Propaganda from both sides tried to either dismiss the death toll as around 250 or count the dead in the thousands, depending on which side of the war they supported. What is certain though is that a great many people lost their lives in terrible circumstances.

Creation of a Masterpiece

Picasso was horrified by the unprovoked bombing of the unarmed town, which contained mainly women, children and the elderly as the men were away fighting. He began to make preliminary drawings for his masterwork and around fifty studies. The final piece is an incredible 3.5 m by 7.6 m in size and took just 24 days to finish. There are many aspects to the painting, and very many interpretations of the different parts of the piece, but it can be seen as an outpouring of Picasso’s pain and grief at what was happening to his beloved country.

“Motifs of a woman screaming in agony as she clutches the limp body of her dead child; another woman stretching out from a window with a lamp, hoping in vain to illuminate the encroaching darkness; mutilated bodies and the gaping mouths of those hysterical with pain, fear and sorrow merge with a wounded horse and the ever-present bull to create a profound dramatic tension.”

His relationship with the French photographer Dora Maar also influenced his work and she in fact took photographs of him at work creating his masterpiece which show how the work changed and developed over the 24 days. She appears in the painting as the face of the woman bearing a lamp. He was also visited by the British Sculptor, Henry Moore and the Spanish painter Salvador Dali during the production of the painting.

Where to See The Painting

The painting can be seen in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid but has also travelled round the world, first being exhibited at the 1937 Paris World Fair and then going on a world tour. Today, art critics still argue over the symbolism of the painting, especially the bull and the horse although Picasso himself is quoted as saying “the bull is a bull and the horse is a horse”.

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Bartolomé Esteban Murillo: Spanish Baroque Artist

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo - Immaculate C...

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo – Immaculate Conception – WGA16381 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The most famous Baroque Spanish artist of his time Murillo’s works, having fallen out of style, are now back in their rightful place in Spain’s art history

The works of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, along with those of Diego Velazquez, are probably the best known of the earlier Spanish painters outside of Spain itself. He was born in 1617 in Seville, a city famous for producing artists and writers of the greatest calibre. He lost his parents whilst still a young boy and was taken in by a local artist called Juan del Castillo from whom he learned to paint and draw. In his early years, he produced religious paintings for churches in Spain and in the Spanish colonies in the Americas as well as delightful pictures of local urchins, flower sellers and the like in his native city.

According to John Moffat in his book “The Arts in Spain”, “Murillo’s initially naturalist and tenebrist style, which he formed without leaving Seville, quickly changed to a diaphanous luminism following two visits to the Spanish court in Madrid”. The visits are believed to have been somewhere in the late 1640’s. Here he was exposed to the works of the great Italian and Flemish artists such as Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck. “Thereafter, practically single-handed, Murillo established a new, synthetic and forceful modelled style which was to dominate mainstream Spanish painting until the time of Goya.”

Religious Works of Art

His later works were nearly all on religious themes which he treated in an imaginative and richly coloured style. Works such as ‘Holy Family with Bird’ (c1650) , three versions of ‘The Immaculate Conception’ and various paintings of saints show this intense color and use of light which are the signature of his paintings as is the mist which often surrounds the main characters containing angels, giving his works an atmospheric effect not previously seen in Spanish works of art.

His paintings became widely popular, not just in his native Spain but across Europe and especially in England where the likes of Joshua Reynolds and John Constable were influenced by his style. Until the 19th century, he was the most famous Spanish artist known to the world and later Spanish artists were influenced and encouraged by his style and fame.

Murillo started an Academy of Art in Seville to encourage young artists and was himself a director. At this time, he received many commissions to produce religious works. It was while he was painting an altarpiece for the Capuchins Church in Cadiz in 1680 that he fell from the scaffolding he was using and was severely injured. He died in April 1682 from his injuries and was buried in the Cathedral in Seville, in front of one of his favorite paintings.

Death of the Artist

After his death, his paintings became even more popular, especially during the Rococo period of the first half of the 18th century, so much so that the King of Spain had to ban the selling of his paintings abroad. In the 20th Century, various critics called his work “weak” and Velasquez was considered to be, by far, the most influential of Spain’s artists but now, the paintings of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo are being re-evaluated by critics and his reputation as one of Spain’s greatest artist is being restored

Diego Velázquez’ ‘Las Meninas’

Español: Las Meninas o La familia de Felipe IV...

Español: Las Meninas o La familia de Felipe IV (detalle), óleo sobre lienzo, 310 cm × 276 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In art, there are certain paintings that are seminal works that change or influence people’s ideas of art, such as Diego Velásquez’ painting ‘Las Meninas.’

There are a number of paintings, such as the Mona Lisa, which are instantly recognisable to the public, even to those with very little interest in art. One such painting is Las Meninas painted by the Spanish court painter Diego Velásquez in 1656. It is considered by many critics to be one of the great pictures of Western art, especially for its naturalistic style wherein it almost appears as if someone had taken a photograph of the scene within the portrait.

Las Meninas

The painting shows a number of people, nine actually in the room and two reflected in the mirror on the back wall. The centre of the work is the five-year-old daughter of King Philip IV of Spain, the Infanta Margarita. She is accompanied by her maids (las meninas of the title) a bodyguard, two dwarfs and a large dog. In the background, a man can be seen in the doorway (either going out or coming in – art critics are divided on this point) who is believed to be Don José Nieto Velázquez, chamberlain to the queen. He is thought to have been a relative of the artist. The artist himself is depicted at the left of the painting, looking out at the viewer with a canvas in front of him. He carries in his hand a paintbrush and palette. He has keys in his belt, a sign of his position in the Royal household and has the cross of Santiago painted on his chest, a later addition to the painting which, legend has it, was painted on by the King himself. Also in the picture is a mirror with a portrait of the King and Queen of Spain. Various commentators have discussed this positioning of the King and Queen in depth. Are they actually in the room, watching the artist at work? Or is it a reflection of a painting on the easel at which the artists stands? Are the King and Queen posing for the painting on the easel and the young Infanta has just popped in to see what her parents are up to? It is heavily debated.

Infanta Margarita

There is so much going on in the painting, that the viewer must spend some time studying it to capture all the detail. It has exercised the minds of many art historians over the centuries, with each new age since the painting’s creation coming up with new or different meanings to each part.

On the back wall of the painting are a number of other paintings such as those of ‘Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ by Peter Paul Ruebens. The painting is set in a room of the Royal Palace and the naturalism of the setting shows the high position and close relationship that the artist had with the Royal family. At the time of the painting, the Infanta Margarita was the only child of the Royal couple which may explain her central position, emphasized by the light coming in from a window at the right and her white dress. Later two brothers arrived, one who died young and one who went on to become Charles II.

Influences For The Painting

The layout of the painting, with its complex spatial positioning and unusual sight lines is what makes the painting so impressive. It shows the same kind of understanding of perspective and positioning as the great artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci (compare with his’ Last Supper’). The use of the mirror also refers the viewer to the famous painting ‘The Marriage of the Arnolfini’ by Jan van Eyck which was painted in 1434 and has a mirror reflection.

Diego Velásquez

Diego Velásquez was born in Seville on 6 June 1599. After becoming an accomplished artist at a very early age, he moved to Madrid in 1622 where he gradually became known to the Royal Family and soon became their favourite artist. He travelled to Italy on two occasions where he was influenced by the masters of the Renaissance. He painted a large number of works and also created sculptures. Much of his work is on display in the Prado Museum in Madrid. He died in August 1660.

‘Las Meninas’ is described by many as the best painting of the period and some go so far as to say it’s the best portrait ever painted. Whether you are an art buff or someone who would like to learn more but know very little, then learning about Velasquez’ masterpiece Las Meninas is an essential part of your art education.