Guernica Still Not Explained

I saw Picasso’s painting Guerncia when I visited the Renia Sofia Museum in Madrid and along with the high school students I was chaperoning tried to figure out what all the different images in the painting meant. 

I  knew the painting was done to protest the bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. On an April day in 1937 German and Italian planes rained bombs down on the city killing thousands.  Picasso painted Guernica to commemorate that awful day but steadfastly refused to explain any of its imagery.  He said viewers could take their own meaning from his canvas.

I was hoping the play Guernica at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival would explain the painting in a way Picasso didn’t. I was disappointed. Although Picasso is the central figure in the drama you never actually see the painting, just a blank canvas and you don’t see him creating the painting as the advertising promises. 

The play takes us to Guernica on market day and in the city square we meet a young girl, a woman and her child, a prostitute, a vegetable seller and a  man waiting for the birth of his first child.  We get to know them during the course of the play and so when the bomb is dropped we feel bereft.

When I got home I looked at Picasso’s Guernica online and tried hard to see if the characters in the play were depicted in the painting. I could find a mother and child, and a woman who might have been the prostitute, but couldn’t make any other connections. A flower and a matador’s cape have a role in the play and are in the painting.  Those few connections were not enough to suit me. I wanted someone to tell me what the images in the painting meant, and why Picasso decided to paint the things he did, but I left the theatre with as many questions as I brought to the play. 

Other posts about the Winnipeg Fringe Festival…….

The Fringe Festival- Part 1

The Fringe Festival – Part 2


1 Comment

Filed under Art, Theatre

One response to “Guernica Still Not Explained

  1. I think Picasso was quite clear on this: he refused to help out because he wanted each of his viewers to see a different painting, one they would interpret through their own eyes. Thus the painter made it impossible for anyone ever coming up with an explanation, to tout as the one and only.
    Since no one is coming forth with any help, look for the explanation within yourself: make up a story of what you see in the painting; use all your imagination, knowledge and experience and explain the images any way you like. It will be your Guernica, yours and no one else’s, as valid as the best critic’s.
    Just as the maestro wanted.


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