Picasso's War: The Destruction of Guernica and the Masterpiece That Changed the World

Overview

On April 26, 1937, the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain was bombed by Hitler's Luftwaffe in the midst of a bloody civil war on behalf of Francisco Franco's rebel forces. Twenty-four hours later, the village lay in ruins, its population decimated. This act of terror and unspeakable cruelty--the first large-scale attack against civilians in modern warfare-outraged the world, and one man in particular. Pablo Picasso, an expatriate living in Paris, responded to the devastation in his homeland by beginning ...
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Overview

On April 26, 1937, the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain was bombed by Hitler's Luftwaffe in the midst of a bloody civil war on behalf of Francisco Franco's rebel forces. Twenty-four hours later, the village lay in ruins, its population decimated. This act of terror and unspeakable cruelty--the first large-scale attack against civilians in modern warfare-outraged the world, and one man in particular. Pablo Picasso, an expatriate living in Paris, responded to the devastation in his homeland by beginning work on Guernica, a painting that many today consider the greatest artwork of the twentieth century.

Weaving themes of politics, art, war, and morality, and featuring some of the twentieth century's most memorable and infamous figures, Martin follows this renowned masterwork across decades and continents. From Europe to America and, finally, back to Spain, Picasso's War sheds light on the conflict that was an ominous prelude to World War II and delivers an unforgettable portrait of a genius whose visionary statement about the horror and terrible wounds of war still resonates today.

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Editorial Reviews

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A military action and the artistic response that it engendered are the topics of this absorbing narrative. In late April 1937, Guernica, a remote Basque town in northern Spain, was pounded by Hitler's Luftwaffe in support of Francisco Franco's fascist insurgents. In the carnage that ensued, more than 1,600 civilians are killed or wounded. When the news reached Paris, world-famous painter Pablo Picasso decided to express his outrage and sorrow on canvas. The result is arguably the most famous painting of the 20th century.
Publishers Weekly
"Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war." So said Spaniard Pablo Picasso, who created the famous painting Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in reaction to the Nazis' bombing of the Basque village of the same name. Guernica is widely regarded as the best known work of anti-war visual art ever made. Wyman takes a friendly, straightforward approach to reading Martin's historical and personal account of the life of the massive painting, reminiscent of a favorite college professor. His occasional accents work more as an indication of a change of speaker rather than as convincing characters, but his enthusiasm for this saga of art, politics and tragedy makes it a winning performance. The story of Guernica's life after its creation is as fascinating as the events that inspired it are horrific. After the painting received much criticism when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1937, the world later deemed it a masterpiece. New York's Museum of Modern Art kept it safe from the political turmoil in Spain for decades until it was finally demanded back in the 1980s. In 2001, when Martin (Beethoven's Hair) finally saw the work-a monument to the horrors of war-he was told by a stranger that he should get to a television. It was September 11. Martin is now speaking publicly about the parallels between the "terror and unspeakable cruelty" of September 11 and Guernica, making this a surprisingly timely audiobook. Based on the Dutton hardcover (Forecasts, Aug. 26, 2002). (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Picasso's "Guernica" was painted in reaction to the barbarous Nazi bombing of the Basque village in Spain in 1937. Martin (Beethoven's Hair) extensively researched the circumstances surrounding the creation of this painting and the attention it has continued to command. On 9/11 he was in Madrid viewing "Guernica"; here he has collaged his response to the attacks in New York City with his feelings about the painting. In the face of such terrible loss, it may be reasonable to parallel the two horrific events; however, Martin mixes fact and opinion with his personal reminiscences. Picasso's politics were ambiguous at best; while he joined the Communist Party to please his friends after World War II, he became disillusioned with Stalin in the 1950s. Picasso said, when asked, in typical fashion, that painting was his party. "Guernica's" historical significance as possibly "the last great history painting" gets lost here, begging the question is it politics, art, or tragedy that is Martin's focus? He discusses visuals yet provides no illustrations, such as the photographs Dora Maar took of Picasso working on "Guernica" or the preparatory drawings. This effort will not satisfy the thoughtful reader, and it skimps on production. For a contrasting perspective on Picasso and "Guernica," try James Lord's Picasso and Dora. You can pass on this one. Ellen Bates, New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Imaginative cultural historian Martin (Beethoven’s Hair, 2000, etc.) crafts a well-integrated and fascinating account of Picasso’s famous painting and the horrible events that inspired it.

The author’s signature approach to seemingly offbeat subjects is careful research filtered through a novelistic sensibility to grasp the inherent story, which he unfolds in the engaging, almost offhand manner of a fictional amateur sleuth. Martin is, first and foremost, a consummate storyteller who deftly weaves such multiple disciplines as politics, history, art, science, and even current events into a narrative forming a coherent whole. A case in point is his handling here of the motivation behind Picasso’s change of heart regarding his previous, adamantly apolitical stance on the Spanish Civil War, then only a few months old. Commissioned by a Republican delegation to devise a prominent work for the courtyard of the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, Picasso, who disdained "poster" (i.e., political) art, originally contemplated a mural whose subject would be the artist in his studio. But the brutal attack on the civilian population of the Basque town Gernika, intended by Franco and his Nazi allies to inspire terror and capitulation, had an energizing effect on the artist. Within two weeks of Gernika’s bombardment and strafing by Goering’s Luftwaffe, Picasso was hard at work on the monumental canvas that was to become the most political artwork of the 20th century. Martin goes beyond the obvious, however, in providing additional, less well-known motives for Picasso’s sudden engagement. Having agreed to become the titular director of the Museo del Prado in September of the previousyear, the artist was outraged by Franco’s barbaric disregard for the safety of the nation’s treasures and quietly agreed to their removal to safety in Valencia.

An engrossing story of a landmark work of art and the struggle "to fashion meaning out of unimaginable evil, once more to offer hope."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525946809
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author


RUSSELL MARTIN is the author of six previous books, including Beethoven's Hair, which was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and a Washington Post Book of the Year. He divides his time between Denver and Salt Lake City.
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Table of Contents

Prologue
1 The Spanish Dead
2 Remembering the Bullring
3 Images Spilling from Fingers
4 Save Spain!
5 A Wearable Pair of Boots
6 Exiles
7 The Last Refugee
8 Guernica in Gernika
Epilogue
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