Those of you who are following my FB or my Instagram posts might have noticed that I only very rarely or virtually never change my profile image.
However, the time has come to do it now after I have thought over the last few days about a painting that will soon be over a hundred years old.
I am talking about “Guernica” the probably most famous work of Pablo Picasso, which was commissioned 1937 following the air raid of German and Italian forces on a mountain village in the Basque country during the Spanish Civil war.
First and foremost, it occupied my mind because despite its age, it remains so contemporary and engaging in its depiction of the terror and the suffering of a peaceful civil community when being exposed to the horrors of modern warfare. The images we are receiving at the moment from Ukraine will in their essence not differ a lot from the images in Spain and neither will they from any such conflicts in the future.
Secondly this paintings is speaking specifically to me as a veterinary surgeon as it highlights that it is not only human beings who are suffering, but also the animals that are living with us, which include not only farming animals, but also dogs and cats and all other companion animals we are sharing our lives with.
Thirdly I find in some of the images of the painting a link with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” conveying the important point that the suffering is not only a physical but also very much a mental one and a sad fact is, that although a lot of physical injuries might heal with time, this might not be the same for the mental state of the victims especially if they have been children.
In addition to this there is another aspect that Picasso failed or omitted to include, which is the shame and the guilt these action will leave with the perpetrator.
And this will not only be limited to the person himself, but to his nation as a whole and in addition to this to his following generations. As a German I know what I am talking about: it had been my fellow countrymen who had bombed this Spanish village, it had been German soldiers that had laid waste over large parts of Europe and it had been Germans who had killed over 6 million jews.
My whole life – despite the fact that I had not even been born when these crimes were committed – I had to live with the stain this had left on my nationality and at all times I have to be aware of the deeds my country had committed in the not so distant past. This was not only the case when speaking to Holocaust survivors with their number tattooed into their skin who had been interned in a labour camp just a few kilometres from the house of my parents, but also when speaking to a farmer in the North of Norway, when he showed me the shed he had to live in for 2 winters as a child after German soldiers had burned down his parent’s house or when hiking in the Pyrenees on the same trails that were used by refugees and resistance fighters to save their lives or when speaking to WW2 veterans on a miserable pension in the UK who were coming to me to treat their dog or cat. It is something you can and you should never shake off.
The same applies at these moments to the Russian soldiers who have invaded a peaceful country that had not threatened their own.
Not only will they have to live with the guilt for their deeds, but so will the whole Russian nation not just now, but for generations to come. Having been the aggressor, having tried to mislead the world with their intentions and having brought suffering over the lives of so many innocent people carries a heavy burden…..
What Picasso tried to tell us is simple : there will be now no winners, there will only be pain and suffering and we are all going to loose…..
After seeing “Guernica” reproduced in art books any number of times, when I finally viewed the actual painting, which was still at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City at the time, I was shocked how huge it is. The impact of the actual painting is staggering, profoundly moving. I looked it up and this is what I learned: “Guernica” is 3.49 meters (11 ft 5 in) tall and 7.76 meters (25 ft 6 in) wide. Here’s a link to a history of the painting, why it was painted and lots of detail about how it finally ended up in Spain, where you must view it if you ever can.
Thanks Doug these information. It must have been a few years ago though as Picasso had insisted for the painting only to be moved to Spain “once it had returned to be a democratic country”. Thankfully this has now been the case for a few decades.
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What amazed me, considering the impact of this painting and the masterpiece that it is, is that he didn’t want to do it, but managed to get through the commission in the end and on time.
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