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Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

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Guernica relates the powerful story of Picasso's 1937 masterpiece, a painting that from its birth out of war and violence became known worldwide as a symbolic cry for peace. The acclaimed biographer of Gaudí traces the iconic painting's beginnings amid the Spanish Civil War through its use as a weapon in the propaganda battle against Fascism, through the years when it beca Guernica relates the powerful story of Picasso's 1937 masterpiece, a painting that from its birth out of war and violence became known worldwide as a symbolic cry for peace. The acclaimed biographer of Gaudí traces the iconic painting's beginnings amid the Spanish Civil War through its use as a weapon in the propaganda battle against Fascism, through the years when it became the nucleus of the Museum of Modern Art's creation in New York, to its role as a symbol of reconciliation when it returned to Spain after the death of Franco, as democracy was reestablished.


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Guernica relates the powerful story of Picasso's 1937 masterpiece, a painting that from its birth out of war and violence became known worldwide as a symbolic cry for peace. The acclaimed biographer of Gaudí traces the iconic painting's beginnings amid the Spanish Civil War through its use as a weapon in the propaganda battle against Fascism, through the years when it beca Guernica relates the powerful story of Picasso's 1937 masterpiece, a painting that from its birth out of war and violence became known worldwide as a symbolic cry for peace. The acclaimed biographer of Gaudí traces the iconic painting's beginnings amid the Spanish Civil War through its use as a weapon in the propaganda battle against Fascism, through the years when it became the nucleus of the Museum of Modern Art's creation in New York, to its role as a symbol of reconciliation when it returned to Spain after the death of Franco, as democracy was reestablished.

30 review for Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

  1. 4 out of 5

    JASON LEMPIERI

    The text is more about the painting’s impact than Picasso’s symbolic and personal mythology as characterized with the work. Yet, it was fascinating to discover how the painting ended up at MOMA for so long and how it eventually made it to its resting place at the Reina Sofia. Sad to think that Picasso never set foot back into Spain after the painting was put on view in 1937. He pined for his homeland, but rebuffed all invitations as he knew he would never be allowed to leave given Franco’s despi The text is more about the painting’s impact than Picasso’s symbolic and personal mythology as characterized with the work. Yet, it was fascinating to discover how the painting ended up at MOMA for so long and how it eventually made it to its resting place at the Reina Sofia. Sad to think that Picasso never set foot back into Spain after the painting was put on view in 1937. He pined for his homeland, but rebuffed all invitations as he knew he would never be allowed to leave given Franco’s despicable regime. Picasso’s description of the Spaniard’s love to see running blood is very insightful. It explains much of their culture from the Inquisition to bull fighting, to the exploitation of the Americas, the unification and the eventual bloodbath of the civil war. How Picasso survived the war in Paris is a mystery. Some of that time is portrayed here. Descriptions of Guernica’s role with American abstractionists seems a bit far fetched, but the most influential work of the 20th century is hard to ignore. Read this book before visiting the masterpiece. The Reina Sofia does a phenomenal job of showcasing its role during its development and immediate aftermath. Their website has an X-ray of the monumental work revealing Guernica’s incarnation. Read the book in tandem.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gwilym

    The life of Picasso's Guernica has been documented well by Gijs van Hensbergen in this considered yet occasionally flawed biography. The first half of the book is a lively and educating exploration of Picasso and his relationship with the Republic. Making sense of the place of Picasso, the war and the painting in the wider world of modern art takes us to New York and explores the relationship between Picasso and later masters such as Pollock. Even if you are not fully aware of all the paintings The life of Picasso's Guernica has been documented well by Gijs van Hensbergen in this considered yet occasionally flawed biography. The first half of the book is a lively and educating exploration of Picasso and his relationship with the Republic. Making sense of the place of Picasso, the war and the painting in the wider world of modern art takes us to New York and explores the relationship between Picasso and later masters such as Pollock. Even if you are not fully aware of all the paintings involved, van Hensbergen does a fair job of keeping the relatively uninformed reader in the loop. Moving toward the end of the journey the book seems to lose it's direction and clarity. Where before concepts, artists and paintings were introduced in an understandable framework the author later seems to drop names and flit back and forth without concern for cohesion. Although we can appreciate the importance of following the life of Picasso to understand where Guernica moves the detail is sometimes tedious and seemingly irrelevant. Too much emphasis is placed on the bureacratic and moral wrangling of the art diplomacy to return Guernica and too little to how it has fared back in native Spain. A discussion of how it fits as an icon - including the infamous UN incident - would have been a more appropriate discussion to fill this space given over to bizarre Picasso family feuding. In conclusion, a good book that is only let down by the poor structuring toward the end. If you have an interest in Guernica and wish to understand how and why it is elevated to the status it is, this book can go a long way in educating you. Take it with a copy of Russell Martin - Picasso's War: The Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece That Changed the World. Be aware also that Gijs van Hensbergen gives little airtime to exploring the meanings of the painting - this is not a theory book, more an account of the object and it's relationship to the owner and owners of it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    One of the most powerful paintings of the twentieth century and its creator presented with fascinating historical, political and biographical context. Beginning with the tragic events in Spain leading up to to the second world war, van Hensbergen provides a engaging account of culture and art during and after the war in Europe and America as Guernica, the painting, travels from France across the ocean and finally back home to Spain. Though at times the author goes a bit over the top with his adm One of the most powerful paintings of the twentieth century and its creator presented with fascinating historical, political and biographical context. Beginning with the tragic events in Spain leading up to to the second world war, van Hensbergen provides a engaging account of culture and art during and after the war in Europe and America as Guernica, the painting, travels from France across the ocean and finally back home to Spain. Though at times the author goes a bit over the top with his admiration for the art world, for someone unfamiliar with the battles artists encountered in their attempts to bridge the gap between mere aesthetics and political statement, this book provides an excellent primer.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marvin

    I put this book on my reading list after my son enthused about seeing Picasso's mural, Guernica, on his trip to Spain. But this art-historical biography of the painting is not really my cup of tea, and it was probably foolish of me to think it would be.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Informative, if limited.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Iben

    He pushes a little too hard in this book, but the section on the Spanish Civil War is fascinating.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    Kinda boring. Picasso was a jerk.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

  10. 5 out of 5

    Frank

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sonicdiablo

  14. 5 out of 5

    Colin Martin

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marieke

  16. 5 out of 5

    Audrey Chapman

  17. 4 out of 5

    José Eduardo

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lue

  21. 5 out of 5

    Reznorgr

  22. 4 out of 5

    Estelle Spencer

  23. 4 out of 5

    Darryl

  24. 5 out of 5

    Soraya

  25. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Martínez

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  27. 4 out of 5

    Liz

  28. 4 out of 5

    Vivianvegter

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael Slattery

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aurelie

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