Cultural Reactions to the Spanish Republic and the Civil War in Barcelona
Catalan nationalism flowered during the first years of the Second Republic, which lasted from 1931 to 1939. But with the republic there also came political and social disputes that pitted certain portions of the community against others. As in the past, battles were fought physically and symbolically, and images and rituals, whose meanings lay in past political and personal experiences, reemerged, to be interpreted by political leaders and artists.
Pablo Picasso, Miquel Utrillo, and Ramón Casas, having come of age as modern civic culture took shape in turn-of-the-century Barcelona, had developed a sense of community with latent political content. They, like many other bohemian artists who had grown up in Barcelona, assumed an antiauthoritarian stance, if only in their artistic endeavors. Through festivals, puppet theater, and art exhibitions, many of them participated in a larger popular community and developed a strong sense of its cultural forms.
Imagery derived from civic life in Barcelona—bullfights, horses, devotional paintings, and folk figures—permeated the work of Casas, Russinyol, Utrillo, and Picasso throughout their lives. The first three died in the thirties, during the Second Republic. Although Picasso visited Barcelona only twice in the thirties and never returned to Spain thereafter, he remained linked by personal memories and relationships to this town where his mother, sister, and oldest friends continued to live. It is no wonder, then, that in 1937, at a time of horror for the Spanish people, when Barcelona was racked by civil war, Picasso would
once again conjure up images from Barcelona that he had already used over and over again. If his direct involvement in Barcelona during the dramatic events of the thirties was intermittent, it was nevertheless intense, culminating in two etchings each called The Dreams and Lies of Franco and in his masterwork, Guernica . These works all drew on traditional motifs that Picasso had already employed, while adding political dimensions seldom before seen in his art.
The thirties were a period of great promise and of dashed hopes for both Spain and Barcelona. With the decline of Primo de Rivera and his short-lived successor, General Dámaso Berenguer, the government could not command support. Further indication of the monarchy's powerlessness came on April 12, 1931, when routine municipal elections resulted in Socialist and republican majorities in every major city in the country. When the king, hoping to stay in power by force, polled the army officers on whom he depended to maintain his position, they refused to guarantee that they would support him as they had done during the parliamentary crisis of 1917. Lacking military support, King Alfonso XIII fled the country. Again, as in 1873, Spain became a republic because the king had resigned.
Republican and Socialist journalists and university professors in the Cortes, who for years had dreamed of transforming Spain into a republic, got their wish, and two days after the municipal elections, on April 14, they declared the creation of the Second Spanish Republic. A constitutional congress made up of Cortes delegates elected the following June went into action. Although their major concerns were social relief for victims of the economic depression, land reform, streamlining of the army through a reduction in the number of officers, and separation of church and state, in short order they were faced with the problem of Catalan nationalism.
In July 1931, hoping to head off a militant separatist movement in Catalunya, the constituent Cortes passed a temporary Statute of Autonomy to define Catalunya's rights within the Second Spanish Republic. It authorized elections to the ancient Catalan provincial government, or Generalitat, which would prepare a Statute of Autonomy, hold a plebiscite of Catalan citizens to consider the statute, and then submit the statute to the Cortes. When the elections took place that summer, the republican coalition known as the Republican Left of Catalunya (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya), a party put together by Lluís Companys in just over three weeks, won a majority. Quickly, Companys was elected head of the provincial government. The results of the referen-
dum, announced on the evening of August 2, 1931, empowered the Generalitat to supervise museums and to use Catalan in all public institutions, including the universities. While it would have authority over all provincial municipalities, it lacked the power to raise taxes, appoint police, or reorganize the school system.
The new Spanish constitution, which took effect in 1932, proclaimed the state a "republic of workers of all categories," yet the republican government was not supportive of the demands of the working classes. Most legislators were troubled by the social revolutionary aims of organized labor and the landless day laborers of the south. The CNT, which had reemerged in 1931, now represented over a million workers and peasants throughout Spain, the vast majority of them in Catalunya. It wanted to create a new government in which workers would share all economic resources equally. Industrial workers in Catalunya, meanwhile, attempting to improve their conditions, were meeting with harsh treatment. Two days after a miners' strike in Llobregat Valley west of Barcelona was put down on January 18, 1932, the Republican government viciously suppressed sympathy strikes among CNT workers in the city. It ordered the army to club and shoot striking workers and then jail their leaders. The CNT was prohibited and, once again, went underground.
Catalan nationalists, a majority of whom now supported the Republican Left, wanted increased power in the region. The Statute of Autonomy as it appeared in the Constitution of September 1932 permitted the belief that Catalunya could finally take control of its own local affairs: it confirmed Catalan as an official language, permitted the creation of a public school system, and gave the Generalitat power over museums, archives, and libraries, local and provincial police, provincial roads, forests, agricultural conditions, health systems, and courts (except for military courts). To finance these activities, money would come from the Spanish government and from provincial taxes on estates, forests, and mines.
Unable to solve the nation's agrarian problem by massive redistribution of land or to ease the economic problems of the working classes, the Republic, governed by a coalition of republicans and Socialists, repressed both groups. When the starving villagers of Casas Viejas in Cádiz Province in southwestern Spain rose up and declared their village a commune, the government burnt the town, killing four people and wounding twenty-five. Outraged, the clandestine CNT stepped up its resistance to the government. In the spring of 1933 it launched strikes
for amnesty, for the right to organize, and for resumed publication of newspapers that had been shut down. By the middle of April, construction and dock workers were striking in Barcelona. As the strikes proceeded during that spring and summer, Spain's jails filled up with some nine thousand CNT prisoners. The effort to free these prisoners developed into an amnesty campaign that drew nearly sixty thousand people to Barcelona's northeastern bullring in September 1933.
The massacre at Casas Viejas had convinced both the left and the right that the government was incapable of governing, and over the first half of 1933 the ruling coalition of republicans and Socialists fell apart. Spaniards outraged by the liberals' use of military force against workers and peasants from 1931 to 1933 and those in Barcelona who were dissatisfied with the pace at which Catalan autonomy was expanding abstained from voting in the parliamentary election of November 19, 1933. As a result, a conservative government representing the interests of the large landowners of the central and southern provinces and the religious middle classes nationwide came to power in Spain—in the same year that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. This conservative coalition ruled until February 1936.
The declaration of the Second Republic and the Statute of Autonomy launched a period of euphoria that drew back to Barcelona Spaniards who had left the city for a variety of reasons. One of those who returned in 1931 was the puppeteer Ezequel Vigués, known as "Dido." A native of Terrassa in Catalunya, Vigués had come to Barcelona for the first time as a tourist during the 1888 exposition. Deciding to stay, he lived with cousins who ran a café in the old section of town and worked first in a fancy dry goods store and then in El Siglo department store on the Rambla. In 1907 he left for Paris and then Egypt, where he spent the next twenty years before returning to Paris in 1928. There he opened the Seville Café, producing Catalan plays performed in French. Although the café became a hangout for Spanish and especially Catalan émigrés, their support could not save it from bankruptcy following the 1929 crash. He decided to travel again.
On a ship going to Panama he ran a puppet show and, at age fifty,
decided to change careers and become a puppeteer. Back in Paris in 1930 and 1931, he worked as a clown at Medrano Circus and played in one of Josephine Baker's bands while honing his skills as a puppet master. On June 24, 1931, two months after the Second Republic was declared, he returned to Barcelona and almost immediately got a job at the combined puppet theater, art gallery, and furniture store known as Reig's Furniture (Mobles Reig) on Gracia Pass. The new puppet plays he created became instant hits.
His popularity convinced the directors of the Artistic Circle of Saint Luke's, which occupied the old premises of the Four Cats on Mount Zion Street, to reopen the puppet theater in March 1932 and invite him to perform. One of the plays he launched there dealt with the fall of Rafael Casanova; it ended with Casanova's death on the barricades of Saint Peter Boulevard in 1714. Delivered in Catalan, this play and others like it promoted a historical memory among young Catalans. When Ramón Casas, the painter and former denizen of the Four Cats, died that March, Vigués even had one of the puppets ask the children to observe a minute of silence for him. Like the late-nineteenth-century puppet shows, those of Vigués were filled with social satire and political commentary. For example, it was common for puppets to remark on the similar red capes worn by the Devil and the policeman, both of whom still spoke Castilian when other characters spoke Catalan. Thus, in building on traditional Catalan puppet theater, Vigués attempted during the Second Republic to preserve and transform Catalan culture, inculcating its values in the next generation.
Other, more famous exiles from Barcelona also returned to the city during the early days of the Second Republic. In the summer before the parliamentary elections of 1933, Pablo Picasso brought his wife and twelve-year-old son, Paulo, to the city. Dismissing their chauffeur, they drove into Barcelona in the Hispano-Suiza luxury car of which Picasso was so proud. Once there, Picasso showed his son and nephews Fen and Xavier Vilató the Spanish Village and the National Palace of Art, launched at the 1929 International Exposition. Picasso of course also attended some bullfights, which revitalized his lifelong preoccupation with the sport.
Returning in late August 1934 for what was to be his last trip to Spain, Picasso and his family traveled to San Sebastián, Burgos, Madrid, Toledo, and Zaragoza before arriving in Barcelona for a few weeks' stay. There, in a sweltering Barcelona August, they previewed,
under Miquel Utrillo's direction, the Museum of Catalan Art, scheduled to open at the end of September. After viewing the collection, Picasso commented to a local newspaper that he admired the "strength, intensity, and sureness of vision" he associated with Catalan Romanesque art.
Even during Picasso's early days in Barcelona, as we have seen, he had been close to people who were early admirers of medieval art, among them Utrillo and the artist Isidre Nonell. Catalan Romanesque murals and Gothic paintings had been displayed at the 1888 exposition, and in 1891 they were deposited in the Palace of Fine Arts in Citadel Park, where they were on view during the festival of the Virgin of Mercy in September and October 1902. Between 1915 and 1929, with the help of Italian crews, the provincial government of Barcelona removed murals from abandoned monasteries and churches all over the region, placing the entire collection in the Archeological Museum in Citadel Park.
During Picasso's years abroad, he continued to be exposed to Spanish medieval art in one form or another. Art historian Lydia Gasman has noted that in the late twenties and early thirties, when Picasso visited his friend Max Jacob, now a monk at Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, he must have noticed the abbey's porch, which was covered with statues deriving from the Spanish medieval manuscript of the Apocalypse of Beatus of Liebana . And in 1931, it is likely that Picasso saw the article on Catalan Romanesque manuscript drawings written by his friend Christian Zervos in Cahier d'art . Picasso, though out of the country during the crucial early years of the Second Republic, was not entirely out of touch.
Growing Political Turmoil
After the conservatives came to power in Spain in November 1933, the CNT planned a national uprising for December 8. Despite a spectacular Barcelona jail break by CNT prisoners, the insurrection was a failure; indeed, it was used to legitimate government censorship, union repression, and the arrest of labor leaders. When, in October 1934, the Catholic conservative party won three cabinet positions, Socialists and anarcho-syndicalists were galvanized to take action against what they feared would be a right-wing coup, whether in fact or
in name. Within a few days, the CNT and the Socialist General Confederation of Workers (UGT), which since December 1933 had been discussing some kind of working-class alliance, planned a national general strike. It began on October 4, with coal miners in Asturias in northern Spain leading the struggle. If there had been any doubts about the ruthlessness of the new republican government, they were laid to rest by its treatment of the workers. Utterly unsympathetic to the gruesome conditions under which the coal miners worked and without concern for their fears, it called in Colonel Francisco Franco. As commander of the crack Moroccan troops and Foreign Legion mercenaries, Franco showed no mercy as his soldiers quashed the miners and their supporters. From October 10 to October 18, Moroccan troops and Legionnaires were permitted to rape and pillage in the mining towns of Asturias. The maneuver resulted in about one thousand dead and thirty to forty thousand jailed throughout Spain.
The day after the nationwide general strike was called on October 4, 1934, Lluís Companys, now president of the Generalitat, proclaimed the "Republic of Catalunya within the Federal Republic of Spain"—an act that was regarded as treason, since there was no federalist state at the time. Companys was arrested and held for sixteen months, and the Statute of Autonomy was abrogated.
After the strike, forces from among Spain's landowners, its army, and its fascist Falange political party had begun to negotiate with Mussolini and Hitler, from whom they obtained financial commitments and promises of military support for a rebellion to overthrow the legally elected Second Republic. The republicans and the left, increasingly aware of the growing fascist menace throughout Europe and mindful that in 1933 divisions among republicans, Socialists, and leftists had permitted conservatives to come to power in Spain, decided to run a unified slate for the parliamentary elections of February 16, 1936. Their coalition, like other such slates elsewhere in Europe, was known as the Popular Front.
Meanwhile, during the summer of 1935, Jaume Sabartés, a poet turned journalist who had been a close friend of Picasso's some three decades earlier in Barcelona, received a summons from the painter. Now that Picasso had left his wife Olga Koklova, with whom he had been fighting for years, he needed a secretary. He hoped that Sabartés, who had recently returned to the city after twenty years as a journalist in Latin America, would accept this position. Although Sabartés had been
the butt of Picasso's jokes in their youth, he was happy to serve. Persuading his own wife to join him, Sabartés headed for Paris, where, from November 1935 to the winter of 1937, he practically lived with Picasso as his secretary and companion. Presumably, he filled Picasso in on recent events in Barcelona.
In the midst of the Popular Front election campaign, Picasso was contacted by the Catalan Friends of the New Arts (Amics de l'Art Nou, or ADLAN), who wanted to open an exhibit of his work on February 18, 1936, two days after the election was scheduled to take place. Even though Picasso was a celebrity, few in Barcelona were familiar with his art, which had not been seen since he and Ramón Casas exhibited jointly in Barcelona in 1932. Picasso agreed to the retrospective but refused to attend. His mother, María Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí talked on the radio in his place to publicize the show. Picasso's friend, the surrealist poet Paul Éluard, traveled down to Barcelona from Paris for the exhibit and delivered a lecture at the opening. Éluard, standing in for Picasso, received the hearty support of students who chanted, "Picasso, the Marxist," confirming that they saw Picasso as a radical. (In fact, although Picasso did later, in 1944, join the Communist party of France, Éluard, like most of the other surrealists, had become a member in 1926.)
When the Popular Front won the elections in February, the left was jubilant, and the right intensified their plotting. With the support of Catholic landowners and fascists, five generals, including Francisco Franco, organized a barracks uprising for July 18, 1936, that was designed to overthrow the freely elected government and impose one more congenial to themselves. The plotters, however, had not counted on the loyalty of certain officers who supported the Popular Front. Nor did they count on the quick action of the people in cities like Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville, where civilians—many of them acting through their unions—rose up to defend the Republic. Only about half of Spain went over to the rebels. And thus the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939 began.
On the day of the attempted coup in Barcelona, the CNT marched on the army barracks, disarmed the soldiers, and seized their weapons to arm themselves. Having chafed at the bit under nearly five years of republican rule, the CNT now attempted to carry out a social revolution by collectivizing all local economic and social resources. George Orwell, who was in Barcelona shortly afterward, talked about how it felt to be in a city in which the people ruled:
It was the first time I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; . . . almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Every shop and café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-workers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said "Señor" or "Don" or even "Usted"; everyone called everyone else "Comrade" and "Thou. " . . . The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. . . . Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.
The Spanish Republican government continued to carry on its work while it attempted to defend itself against its enemies. The right-wing rebels, among whom General Francisco Franco had become preeminent by November 1936, were willing to empower Hitler and Mussolini to test new military strategies on Spain in their behalf. On October 23, 1936, three months after the Civil War had begun, the Luftwaffe began to bomb Madrid. Over five thousand people were killed in a single night, in the first time systematic bombing was used specifically to terrorize and crush the will of a civilian population. Like later similar attempts, however, this first instance only enhanced the resolve of the people, both in Madrid and in the Spanish nation as a whole. It was at this time that Dolores Ibarruri, a Communist leader known as "La Pasionaria," coined the slogan "No pasarán" (They shall not pass), which became a watchword for democratic forces throughout the world.
Popular Culture and Artistic Resistance
To demonstrate its commitment to art and show the Republic's determination to preserve Spanish culture, the government, well aware that Picasso was an international celebrity in the art world, named him titular director of the Prado Museum in the summer of 1936. And in January 1937, when the Republican government began to prepare a pavilion for the Paris International Exposition of Arts and
Technology to be held that summer, they invited Pablo Picasso to do a mural. He accepted the commission but did not decide on the subject matter for several months.
On January 8 and 9, 1937, Picasso prepared two etchings, both entitled The Dreams and Lies of Franco (figures 18 and 19). Each etching was divided into nine boxes in the form of an auca, auques being a style of Catalan printing that dated back to the seventeenth century. Engravings printed on large paper, divided into forty-eight boxes in eight lines of six rows, auques resembled the feature pages of modern newspapers, which began to supplant them in the early twentieth century. A typical auca was organized thematically and depicted festivals, stories from mythology, artisans working at their craft, historic events, scenes from literature, and landmarks, with captions appearing below each box. The auques were read and reread like classic comics, or they might be hung on walls to decorate the rooms of the poor.
Like street marches, auques proved to be a traditional form that could be adapted to comment on modern life. They appeared documenting Barcelona's first May Day and describing the gala events around the Virgin of Mercy celebration in 1902. On at least four occasions before 1937, moreover, Picasso had made auques (in Castilian, Aleluyas ) of his own. On January 13, 1903, during his third trip to Paris, he drew an affectionate comic strip about the life of his French friend Max Jacob. In 1904, following Picasso's fourth trip to Paris, he illustrated a fantasy in comic-strip form portraying himself and a companion riding a train to Paris, getting off, and receiving a huge bag of money from a leading art dealer. The drop curtain Picasso prepared for the ballet The Three-cornered Hat in 1919 was another auca , this one depicting a bullfight. On July 4, 1931, when Picasso was preparing his illustrations for Honoré de Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece , he once again etched an auca depicting a bull and a horse in one frame and the artist in his studio in the other eleven boxes. Like the miracle painting he did in 1899 or 1900 to commemorate Utrillo's safe recovery from an auto accident, Picasso's auques both demonstrated his sensitivity to popular culture and incorporated his own preoccupations within a traditional form.
The two auques entitled The Dreams and Lies of Franco clearly express his views about what was transpiring in Spain during the Civil War. In nine frames, the first version, dated January 8, 1937, demonstrates Picasso's antagonism to Franco, who appears as a polyp with a mustache, wearing military boots and a crown. In one of the first examples of Picasso's use of overt political imagery, the polyp appears as an instrument
Image not available.
Image not available.
of the military, religious forces, and the monarchy. An enemy of art, the polyp is portrayed hacking at a classical bust with a pickax. In another frame, the polyp, with a full erection and a hairy, bare bottom, appears to lose his cardinal's hat as he brandishes a sword. Elsewhere, as a malicious-looking sun takes note, the polyp appears as a knight, bearing a sword and mounted on a broken-down horse whose entrails are falling to the ground. Below that box, the polyp is shown in mantilla , holding a fan decorated with a Madonna. In another frame, the polyp rides a pig; here he wields a pike at the end of which is the kind of religious flag that appears in four other squares. The triangular figure that appears on the banners could well be the Virgin of Mercy, near whose sanctuary Picasso had lived as a youth. In the center square of this first auca , a heroic bull with a beautiful face attacks and overthrows the polyp.
The Dreams and Lies of Franco II , which was begun on January 8 and 9, 1937, taken up again in May, and finished on June 7, reintroduces the polyp in three of the top five frames (completed in January). In the last segments, completed in May and June, Picasso replaced the marauding polyp with dead and crying women and children. Of the five frames done in January, the first square shows a delicate and alluring sleeping mare. That etching is paired with one immediately to its right of an outstretched woman, apparently dead in a field. To the right of that is one of the two most violent drawings in this series. An observer wearing the pointed headgear common both to victims of the Spanish Inquisition and to the Celestina witch figure watches a horse writhing in agony, thrown to its back by the polyp in military boots. The horse, hooves kicking in the air, lies powerless, its teeth bared in apparent suffering rather than in aggression. To the far right in the drawing is a religious banner, like those in the first auca .
The center panel of the work is more violent still. A flash of a curly-haired bull, twisted around itself, is identifiable by its horns. A figure, half-polyp, half-horse, with teeth and snout twisted in pain, faces the bull, whose guts spill out on the earth. Imbedded in the offal, as if claiming to triumph over it, is another flag with an image resembling the Virgin of Mercy. Two other flags, that of the Spanish Republic and that of the Francoist forces, also appear.
Originally, Picasso planned to break the blocks of his auques apart and sell them as postcards to raise money for Spanish relief, but instead the etchings were ultimately published in a booklet along with an illustrated poem he wrote in June 1937, at the time of the Parisian International Exposition.
The Bombing of Guernica and the Civil War in Barcelona
Despite Picasso's manifest concern with the Spanish Civil War, most critics agree that he had not decided to make it the subject of his mural for the Spanish Pavilion until the Nazi bombing of the ancient Basque town of Guernica on April 26, 1937, at 4:30 in the afternoon. The world was shocked. Guernica had no strategic importance at all: it simply served as a testing ground for fascist war planes.
For centuries, Guernica had been the symbolic center of the Basque nation, the place where the medieval common laws (called fueros ) that had governed the four Basque provinces were read out from under a tree that became invested with deep cultural meaning. Now, refugees from the fighting in nearby towns had swelled the population of Guernica from its normal seven thousand to ten thousand.
It was a Monday market day when the Nazi planes flew over. Junker 52S's followed Heinkel 111's every twenty minutes for over three hours, bombing and machine-gunning civilians until some 1,600 people lay dead, with more than 800 wounded. The strafing by up to two hundred planes went on and on in a show of military overkill that has since become commonplace. G.L. Steer, an eyewitness, described the horrors of that day in the Times of London:
[The planes] flew at six hundred feet, slowly and steadily shedding their tubes of silver, which settled upon those houses that still stood in pools of intolerable heat; then slipped and dribbled from floor to floor. Gernika was compact as peat to serve as fuel for the German planes. Nobody now bothered to save relatives or possessions; between bombardments they walked out of Gernika in front of the stifling smoke and sat in bewildered hundreds on the roads to Bermeo and Mugika. Mercifully, the fighters had gone. They no longer glanced down to mutilate the population in movement and chase them across the open fields. The people were worn out by noise, heat, and terror; they lay about like dirty bundles of washing, mindless, sprawling, and immobile.
Meanwhile, by late April, civil strife was sweeping Barcelona. The scene must have had a familiar ring to Picasso, who, according to art historian Herschel Chipp, was following the news from Spain in the Parisian newspapers Ce soir and Figaro . His mother and his sister and her family had already been affected by the war when a convent near their home burned during the first days of fighting in the summer of 1936. The widow of a middle-class doctor, Picasso's sister may have worried about what would happen in the city as the CNT, in the eleven
months from July 1936 to May 1937, proceeded to carry out the revolution of which they had always dreamed.
Nominal power remained with the city and provincial government in the Plaza of Saint James. But as we have seen, it was the CNT who led the working class in neutralizing the army during the military insurrection in July. Under confederation leadership, factories were collectivized, though they frequently remained under the management of the old owners; it was, after all, in everyone's interest for the factories to run smoothly. Despite growing shortages of material, the plants operated well. Nevertheless, republicans, Communists, and Socialists all blamed the CNT for concentrating on making a revolution in Barcelona rather than on winning the war against the fascists in Spain.
The liberal democracies of the United States, France, and Great Britain had effectively quarantined the Spanish Republic out of the misguided view that an arms embargo would shorten the war. Whereas the fascist governments were giving massive aid to Franco's side, the Soviet Union provided only limited help to the Republic; still, being the only major outside source of military support, it exercised considerable power over the government in Madrid. According to Stalin as well as the Spanish republicans and Socialists, defeating the fascists depended on the continued support of the Spanish middle classes, and that required restoring private property that had been collectivized and preventing future appropriation of such property. Pursuing this policy entailed crushing the CNT.
In an atmosphere of mutual antagonism and impending doom, on April 25, the day before Guernica was bombed, a leader of the Stalinist United Socialist Parties of Catalunya (PSUC), Roldán Cortada, was gunned down at Mollís de Llobregat near Barcelona. Public opinion blamed the CNT. Cortada's funeral became a civic ritual, an occasion for a massive show of force by liberals and Communists. Then, on April 26 and 27, a great fear swept the CNT's ranks: the government, it was rumored, planned to disarm the popular militias and consolidate power in the hands of the police and the Republican army. The barricades, which had come down when the city was secured in the summer of 1936, went up again in Barcelona on April 28, two days after Guernica was bombed.
To show their outrage at the bombing of Guernica and at so-called French neutrality, one million Parisians marched on May Day. Barcelona's mayor, however, announced that there would be no May Day celebrations in that city. Since 1890 the workers had used May Day as
their preeminent street spectacle, and in 1931, just after the Second Republic was proclaimed, there had been a massive May Day demonstration in nearby Badalona. The reporter for the Diluvio explained at the time: "Today's festival is significant not only for workers. . . . Today's festival is the people's affirmation of its support for the republican cause, a test of the fervor with which it has embraced [the Republic], and a formidable and unequivocal demonstration of the knowledge of what it will take to defend it and what it will take to consolidate it." Six years later, the banning of May Day presaged trouble.
Barcelona's May Days and the Making of Guernica
On May Day 1937, five days after the bombing of Guernica and four days after the showdown between the CNT and the government in Barcelona began, Picasso, working in Paris, drew the first six sketches for the overall composition of Guernica , as well as the first studies of the principal figures in the mural. The sketches included depictions of a wounded horse, a woman with a lamp at a window, and a bull, which appeared in the final mural; not included in the sketches were a woman in a burning house, the woman with the dead child, the fallen warrior, a magical eye with a light bulb, and an intelligent face on the bull, all of which would figure prominently in the mural as well. The study of the twisted, collapsed horse crying out, one of the May Day drawings (figure 20), is reminiscent of the studies of wounded horses he did in 1917. Evidently, social strife in Spain triggered in Picasso certain images recalled from youth.
On May 2, Picasso prepared three more studies—two drawings and one oil painting—of the horse in agony, as well as two different outlines of the entire composition. All three horses throw back their heads in pain, for the first time revealing not only teeth but also, as in the final mural, tongues like daggers. The increasingly intense images of the horse recall the most grizzly moments in a bullfight, those times when, as the mounted picador tries to spear the beast with his pike, the bull, crazed with pain, turns on the horse, the innocent bystander who lacks any heroic role in the fight.
The day after Picasso completed these three studies for Guernica,
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events in Barcelona took a dramatic turn: what became known as the "May days" were triggered when the city government, supported and perhaps instigated by the small but influential Communist party, attempted to retake the telephone and telegraph exchange from the CNT militias. The latter had seized the telephone company at the foot of the Plaza of Catalunya on Fountain Street in July 1936 and had continued to run the exchange during the first year of the war. The telephone system in Barcelona had originally been intended for Montreal but, rejected by that city, had been sold to Barcelona instead and, for one reason or another, had never run efficiently. Callers were frequently cut off, lines were fuzzy, and people were often shifted in and out of one another's calls. It is also possible that, as city officials claimed, the cenetistas at the phone company listened in on conversations of representatives of the provincial and municipal government.
On May 3, the Catalan Communist party and the Barcelona police forcibly seized the telephone and telegraph offices. The CNT resisted, and workers from all over Barcelona went out on strike. On Tuesday, May 4, Prime Minister Francisco Llargo Caballero called for a ceasefire. The same day, the Communists succeeded in pressuring Llargo Ca-
ballero to dissolve the CNT militias. On May 5, a Communist delegate to the Cortes was killed, probably in retaliation for the attacks on the telephone company two days earlier. On May 4 and 5, the street lights went out in Barcelona. Bombs and shots were heard throughout the Parallel, Laietana Way, and the Plaza of Spain, and intense gunfire rang out between Canovas and Balmes streets. Women stood in lines in the markets to get what little milk was available for their children.
May 6 saw heavy fighting at the Born Market; ten were killed and thirty wounded. Fighting also broke out near the Saint Anthony Market near Parliament Street. New barricades went up all over the Parallel. That day, the four CNT leaders who, in September 1936, had been drawn into the national government as cabinet members to help unite the country in its resistance to Franco came to Barcelona and tried to save the cenetistas and get the city back to order. The appearance of street cleaners at 6:00 A.M. on Friday, May 7, raised hopes that normal life would begin again. But the cease-fire failed, and the CNT cabinet members stood aside as the government called in twelve thousand soldiers, who reached the city on May 8 and established peace by breaking the power of the CNT. By Sunday, May 9, the city was quiet. As the fighting ended, the roundups of CNT members intensified. When it was all over, about five hundred lay dead, with approximately a thousand wounded.
It may have been only a coincidence, but between May 3, when the police and the Communists retook the telephone exchange in Barcelona, and May 8, when the fighting came to an end, Picasso did no work on Guernica . When he began again on May 8, the puppetlike woman at the window holding her beacon of light—which, as the art historian Sir Anthony Blunt points out, was a staple of both the early drawings and the final composition—disappeared for the only time from the preliminary drawings. In her place, a woman carrying a dead child appeared. It is hard to resist concluding that for Picasso, the lights of hope had gone out with the repression in Barcelona.
On May 9, Picasso drew what, with some elaborations, would become the composition of the final work. This rendition of Guernica suggests a darkened stage out of which the figures emerge, brought into relief by theatrical lighting. The woman with the lamp illuminates her section of the drawing, and on her left, a house on fire lights another section. To our left, stage right, a building that looks like a set with a door makes its first appearance. The stagy design reminds one of miracle paintings, where the disaster represented always appears in tableaux.
The other new element added in the May 9 composition was three
upstretched arms, two on the left and one moving from the window behind the woman with the dead child. At the end of each arm is a fist, the symbol of the Popular Front. The disembodied limbs are reminiscent of the votive limbs and organs often hung in churches as gratitude for cures. The motif of extended arms also derives from posters that were plastered all over Paris in an effort to get the French government to give up its policy of nonintervention.
On May 11, Picasso began work on the painting itself, on a massive canvas twenty-five feet eight inches wide by eleven feet six inches high. Using the canvas as if it were paper, he took the mural through seven different incarnations. Meanwhile, he continued to do studies of individual elements, especially the horse, the bull, and the crying woman in a kerchief holding a dead baby. One new feature, which first appears in a study on May 11, is the woman in the burning house; again, here one thinks of miracle paintings, like one on the altar of the Virgin of Bonanova of a piano factory in flames (plate 10; cf. plate 2).
On May 20, 1937, as mopping-up activities were taking place in Barcelona (Picasso could again communicate with his family by telephone instead of getting his information from the radio and newspapers), he did a sketch of a bull, its face a mask with nostrils flaring in different planes (figure 21). In the background are figures that resemble paramecia; hairlike fila seem to propel them, and at second glance they appear to be eyes surrounded by lashes. As abstract as this drawing seems, it owes a great deal to the Catalan Romanesque art Picasso had been familiar with at least as far back as 1902, when he attended the exhibition of medieval art associated with the Virgin of Mercy celebration.
As a way to promote Catalan culture and the Republican cause, Picasso, Pablo Casals, and others had organized an exhibit of figures from the Museum of Catalan Art, which opened at the Jeu de Paume and a local Parisian gallery in March 1937. Picasso's friend Christian Zervos published a catalogue of the exhibit, L'art de la Catalogne de la seconde moitié du neuvième siècle à la fin du quinzième siècle , which amounted to a comprehensive study of medieval Catalan art. Among the representative murals that Zervos reproduced in black and white are images, never fully explained, of disembodied eyes and markings that are frequently echoed in the works of Joan Miró and later Catalan painters such as Manel Cuixart and Antoni Tàpies. For example, the seraphim on a mural from Saint Clement of Tahull, which is still housed in the Museum of Catalan Art, has eyes all over its wings and similar eyes that look like stigmata on its hands (figure 22). Zervos also reproduced an
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apocryphal animal and a lamb of the Apocalypse, both of which are covered with eyes that evoke what in the final version of Guernica became the sun and the light bulb (figures 23 and 24).
In Guernica , Picasso turned to his own previous work, in addition to earlier Catalan styles. His use of bullfight imagery is one obvious example. Another is his use of imagery drawn from newspaper photographs. During the period 1912–1913 when Picasso first made collages, he frequently inserted newspaper clippings in his compositions. Nearly a quarter of a century later, in Guernica , he once again drew on the daily press in using black and white for the painting and in imposing what looks like newsprint on the central part of the mural. Newspapers had played an increasing role in shaping public opinion as Picasso was growing up in Barcelona. At the beginning of the twentieth century, forty-two papers a week were published in Barcelona, of which four were dailies. Black-and-white photographs had by then replaced drawings in supplementing the printed texts, and for many the picture was more important than the words. One of Picasso's close friends from
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youth, Joan Vidal Ventosa, had been not only a connoisseur of Romanesque art but also a master of photogravure, the early method for producing pictures in newspapers. Stephen Spender, writing about the mural in the New Statesman on October 15, 1938, when it was on display at the Burlington Gallery in London, observed persuasively that Guernica
is a picture of horror reported in the newspapers, of which [one] has read accounts and perhaps seen photographs. This kind of second-hand experience, from the newspapers, the news-reel, the wireless, is one of the dominating realities of our time. The many people who are not in direct contact with the disasters falling on civilization live in a waking nightmare of second-hand experiences which in a way are more terrible than real experiences because the person overtaken by a disaster has at least a more limited vision than the camera's wide, cold, recording eye, and at least has no opportunity to imagine horrors worse than what he is seeing and experiencing. The flickering black, white, and grey lights of Picasso's picture suggest a moving picture stretched across an elongated screen; the flatness of the shapes again suggests the photographic image, even the reported paper words. The center of this picture is like a painting of a collage in which strips of newspaper have been pasted across the canvas.
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Guernica has become a twentieth-century icon, a "masterpiece" that transcends its own history and its constituent parts, although an understanding of its political and cultural context surely enhances, if not its power, then our understanding of its power (figure 25). In adapting medieval Catalan renditions of the Apocalypse, Picasso painted one of his own. Guernica can be considered to express Picasso's views of good and evil in the modern age through the use of popular Catalan forms and motifs. Thus it is rooted in Barcelona's visual culture, as Picasso experienced it—in auques , and the photographs of ancient Catalan murals in Zervos's catalogue, and newspaper photographs; indeed, it portrays aspects of that culture with great profundity. Drawing on the traditions of medieval art and of the bullfight, Picasso confronted modern war with modern art.
Surely it is significant that during a dark period in Barcelona's history and Picasso's life, bullfights, Catalan art, comic-strip auques , and miracle paintings reappeared in his art. One way to approach Guernica is to note how it blends the images he chose to use—some of whose meanings are embedded in the political history of Barcelona, some of which reside in his own personal experiences—to achieve a masterpiece of universal meaning.