What Pablo Picasso told Nazis about Guernica

A partial transcript from Episode 21 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show.

Picasso was some guy, certainly one of the most revolutionary figures in the arts of the 20th century. And I love his works. How can you not really? One of his most famous works is named Guernica. It’s a masterwork.

It was painted in 1937 and depicts the bombing of Guernica, a city in Spain attacked by the German and Italian fascists at the direction of Francisco Franco and the Spanish nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.

In January 1937, while Pablo Picasso was living in Paris on Rue des Grands Augustins, he was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to create a large mural for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. He lived there all throughout the second world war and of course, under Nazi occupation of France.

While the city was under curfew, Parisians were constantly arrested and interrogated and Picasso himself, despite his status or perhaps because of his status, was no exception. He was particularly harrassed by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police.

On one occasion, which has sort of become a legendary tale of his life, the Nazis searched his apartment and an officer spotted a photograph of the Guernica. This prompted the Gestapo to ask Picasso, “Did you do that?” And Picasso replied, “No, you did.” Which is just the perfect answer.

It’s interesting to note that while Picasso’s artistic career is often divided into various major stylistic phases commonly referred to as periods, the Guernica is the one work that seems to encapsulate several of these periods at one — from the surrealism he explored from 1926 onwards, to stained glass influences to the strong expressionist elements and so on.

Also, during his time in paris, he also painted a lot with grays, beige and such colors. At that time, it was also hard for him to get his hands on actual paint. Which is another reason why the Cannes work output was so joyful in comparison.

Download the full radio show here.