Tuesday, September 11, 2007
On September 10, 1981, Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica (above) finally returned to Spanish soil after more than 40 years of exile. Commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government in 1937 to create a mural for the upcoming World’s Fair, Picasso chose the subject of the bombing of the small town of Guernica by the Nazi war machine as Blitzkrieg “practice” for the approaching World War II. After the World’s Fair in Paris, Picasso’s mural traveled around Europe before finally landing in America in 1938. Picasso asked the MOMA to safeguard his work during the war. Later, Picasso stipulated that Guernica could not return to Spain until it was a free republic once again. Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco clamored for its return as Picasso’s reputation and the painting’s fame loomed over Spain. When Picasso died in 1973 and Franco followed in 1975 (and, according to latest reports, is still dead), many thought that the rise of a democratic constitutional monarchy in Spain would allow for Guernica’s return. The MOMA and Picasso’s descendants, however, felt otherwise. After years of negotiation and pressure, Guernica returned to Spanish soil in 1981. Sadly, the years of travel took their toll on the work and have rendered it too unstable to travel again. Picasso’s Guernica, however, stands as one of those landmark cultural works beyond time, nationality, or place, reminding us of the cost of war and pleading with us to follow the path of peace. Paired so closely to the infamous date of September 11th, the return of Guernica on September 10, 1981 stands as an example of the power of art to express the seemingly inexpressible and to transform even the most senseless slaughter of innocents into an opportunity not for vengeance and retribution but for peace and understanding.