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My first "real" contact with Picasso

By Spiros Tzelepis

Twenty-six of Picasso's studies on Guernica were presented in Athens

The previous months were very challenging for the art-lovers of Athens since we had the chance to enjoy great cultural events. One of them was the exhibition of 23 designs, 1 etching and 2 oil paintings -all original- studies on Guernica, presented in the museum of Cycladic art in Athens along with a copy of Guernica. So we had the opportunity to admire the work of the most famous artist of the 20th century in our country.

Myself outside the Museum of Cycladic Art

I visited this exhibition, and I confess that I had to wait about an hour in order to enter it, since it was very crowded with people of all ages.

As we all know, Picasso before composing Guernica worked on some studies in order to create the basic figures of his great composition. He gradually developed his vision working step by step and creating his dramatic figures such as the mother with the dead child, the dying horse and others. The exhibition I visited was about these figures which make up the story of Guernica, all of them brought to Greece from the National Museum Art Centre Queen Sophia, Madrid.

Mother with the dead child (II) 13 May 1937-pencil and crayon on paper.

First I would like to present to you Guernica, and then I will give a short presentation of Picasso's life and work.

Composition study for the Guernica (VII) 9 May 1937-pencil on paper.

Picasso was moved to paint Guernica after German planes supporting General Franco bombarded the Basque town of Guernica on April 26,1937 during the Spanish Civil War. He completed the composition of the painting in less than two months, and then the work was presented in the Spanish Pavilion of the Paris International Exposition of 1937.

Horse and mother with dead child, 8 May 1937, pencil on paper

The painting does not portray the event; actually Picasso expressed his outrage employing such imagery as a bull, a dying horse, a fallen warrior, a mother and a dead child, a woman trapped in a burning building, another rushing into the scene and a figure leaning from a window and holding out a lamp.

Head of a Horse (II) 2 May 1937- pencil on paper.

Despite the complexity of its symbolism and the impossibility of definitive interpretation, Guernica is considered to portray the horrors of the war. Picasso had said that he did not paint the war, but the war was present everywhere in his work as the bull is considered to symbolize the power, the horse the victims of the war and the women with the dead child the horror of the war.

Mother with dead child (IV), 28 May 1937- pencil, gouache, crayon and collage on paper.

Guernica now hangs in Madrid's museum of 20th century art, the Reina Sophia Art Centre. Dora Maar, Picasso's companion at the time, took photographs of the painting as the work was in progress.

Guernica, the copy was presented in The Museum of Cycladic art, Athens

A short presentation of Picasso and his work

Picasso (1881-1973) was born in Malaga and the first surviving drawings of him were done when he was nine. In 1895 his family moved to Barcelona, and he studied at the School of Fine Arts there. He then spent a few months at the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, but he already had his own studio in Barcelona experimenting with a variety of styles, aged 16.

In 1900 he first visited Paris and for the next 4 years divided his time between there and Barcelona. Picasso's "Blue Room" reflects the work of Edgar Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec and shows his evolution to the Blue Period, so called because various shades of blue best suited the melancholic subjects that he favoured at that time. Expressing misery, the paintings portray blind people, beggars, alcoholics and prostitutes and their elongated bodies reminiscent of the style of El Greco.

In 1904 Picasso settled in Paris. The next year or so of his life is known as his Rose Period, when blue was replaced by pink as the predominant colour in his work. His subjects became more cheerful and his works included many scenes of the circus and circus performances.

In 1906 during a stay in Gosol--a remote Catalan village in the Pyrenees--Picasso's work entered a new phase, marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian, and African art. The key work of this early period is "Les Demoiselles d"Avignon".

From the time of their first meeting in 1906 until the outbreak of World War I, Picasso and Braque worked closely together. They began to paint landscapes in a style later described by a critic as being made of "little cubes", thus leading to the term "Cubism". Together they developed the first phase of Cubism, known as analytical Cubism.

In 1912, pasting paper and a piece of oilcloth to the canvas and combining these with painting areas, Picasso created his first collage, "Still Life with Chair Caning". The technique marked the transition to synthetic Cubism which is more decorative, with colour playing a major role.

While he was creating this revolution in painting, Picasso was doing almost equally innovative work in sculpture putting together sculpture from pieces of commonplace material.

After the outbreak of war in 1914, Picasso continued to work in Paris. In the immediate post-war period he painted for a time in a style that has been called "classical" and that marked a reaction against the experimental fervour of the pre-war years. This serenity was short-lived, however, for in the mid 1920s he became interested in Surrealism and started painting violently expressive pictures.

In 1935 Picasso made the etching Minotauromachy, a major work combining his minotaur and bullfight themes; in it the horse and the bull prefigure the imagery of Guernica.

After the war he lived mainly in the South of France and continued to be extremely productive, but it is agreed that his post-war output is of lesser importance. He died on April 10, 1973.

Picasso's importance is said to lie in the fact that he with Braque took one step further the abstraction and in so doing altered the course that art had followed since the Renaissance. He was also prolific producing works that encompassed a panoply of moods and styles and a great variety of media.

Source: The museum of Cycladic Art, Athens. All the photos are from the studies presented in Athens and have been taken from the museum. The photo of the museum is by Spiros Tzelepis.

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