Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon by Gijs van Hensbergen - review by Sebastian Shakespeare

Sebastian Shakespeare

Paint Run Amok

Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

By

Bloomsbury 374pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

On 26 April 1937 sixty German and Italian planes rained incendiary bombs down on the Basque town of Guernica for three hours, killing 1,645 people. It was the first saturation bombing in Europe. Picasso's response to this devastation was his masterpiece Guernica. It is a remarkable painting, on account of its monstrous size (eleven feet high and twenty-five feet long) and its memorable image& (the weeping woman, the screaming horse and the fallen warrior). Even sixty-seven years on, it induces, in that murderous phrase, shock and awe. Completed in just six weeks, the picture has acquired its own mythology. One famously apocryphal story relates Picasso's encounter with a Gestapo officer in occupied France. 'You did that, didn't you?' asked the German, pointing to a reproduction of the work. Picasso's masterly reply: 'No, you did.' 

–This book is a fascinating biography of the painting – from its genesis during the Spanish Civil War, when its reception was strangely muted, to its troublesome teenage years as a post-war icon of rebellion, to its stately middle age, when it became accepted as one of the great works

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