|Guernica in Exile
When the World Fair ended, the Republicans
sent Guernica on an international tour to create awareness of the
atrocities perpetrated by the Fascists. According to art historian, Patricia
Failing: "Picasso's friends and colleagues in Paris were very impressed by
the power of the painting. Because it was a painting by Picasso, and because it
was also something that connected with a very dramatic event, the idea of
sending Guernica on tour for the cause, basically as propaganda and
fund-raising, seemed to be a reasonable sort of idea."
While the war continued in Spain, the painting traveled to
Scandinavia, England and London, where the price of admission was a pair of used
boots for the poorly equipped Republican troops. But in March of 1939, Madrid
fell to the Nationalists, and Franco claimed victory over the Spanish Republic.
Although Picasso intended that the mural ultimately reside in Spain, he refused
to allow Guernica to go home as long as Franco ruled: "The painting
will be turned over to the government of the Spanish Republic the day the
Republic is restored in Spain!"
In September, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, bringing to bear
the experience of bombing the town of Guernica in London and Stalingrad. Fearing
for the safety of the painting in Paris under Nazi occupation, Picasso made a
long-term loan of the mural to New York's Museum of Modern Art, and Guernica
joined the ranks of refugees. As the war engulfed the world, the Allies bombed
Dresden, Berlin, and Hiroshima... and Picasso's disturbing vision became a
"It's not so much that there was an enormous body of sympathy for Picasso's
Communist sentiments, but certainly there was an enormous body of sympathy for
the anti-Fascist sentiments that were at the heart of the Guernica
project. So it did work as a reasonably effective fundraising tool, although it
certainly didn't raise enough money to support the army of Republican
For the next nineteen years the canvas toured the United States and around the
globe, returning to New York in 1958.
In its travels, Guernica became the most talked-about
painting in the world, continuing to evoke vigorous debate about its political
intentions, cultural meanings and aesthetic value.
In a surprisingly ironic turn, Franco launched a campaign in 1968 for
repatriation of the painting, assuring Picasso that the Spanish Government had
no objection to the controversial subject matter. One can only imagine how
incredulous Picasso must have been. Through his lawyers, Picasso turned the
offer down flat, making it clear that Guernica would be turned over only
when democracy and public liberties were restored to Spain.
"The last visit that Picasso ever made to Spain was in
1934, and he had vowed never to return until Franco died," says Failing.
"Unfortunately, Franco happened to outlive him by a couple of years. So he
never went back to Spain after 1934, even though his family was there and he
maintained a very strong affection for Spanish life and Spanish culture. So
Guernica had this really unique relationship with Picasso and his life; in a way
it was his alter ego..."
In 1981, after years of elaborate negotiations involving Spain, the United
States, MOMA and several contentious heirs to Picasso's estate, Guernica
finally arrived on Spanish soil for the first time.
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