Guernica The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon


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Bloomsbury USA


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1582346062

9781582346069

384 Pages

$16.95

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Of all the great paintings in the world, the story of Pablo Picasso's Guernica may tell us more about the last century's history than any other. In this study, Gijs van Hensbergen, acclaimed author of Gaudí, explores the life of this cultural icon from its birth to the present day. He tells the story of the painting's beginnings amid the turmoil and chaos of the Spanish Civil War, and of its use as a weapon in the propaganda battle against Fascism. The painting then travels overseas to become the nucleus of the Museum of Modern Art collection in New York City, influencing such artists as Jackson Pollock and becoming a catalyst for American abstract expressionism. Finally, as van Hensbergen movingly describes, Guernica takes on a new role as a symbol of reconciliation for Spain after the death of Franco, and so the work is returned to that country as democracy is reestablished.

Guernica is a rich, fascinating account of national struggle, political exile, creative genius, and the power of art as a tool of both protest and healing. Ingeniously chronicling the life of Picasso's visionary tableau, van Hensbergen offers us a new way of understanding our own history.

REVIEWS

Praise for Guernica

"A book that sparkles with intelligence."—San Francisco Chronicle
 
"Van Hensbergen refurbishes Guernica's aura the way another might restore the canvas itself."—The Nation

"Picasso's great assault on barbarism is, as the title of Gijs van Hensbergen's book describes it, a 20th-century icon. Van Hensbergen's account of its gestation and its final destiny in Madrid [examines] in minute detail both the circumstances of the painting's creation and the power of its imagery. Van Hensbergen, however, focuses less on its artistic merits and more on the role it has played in the world's psyche . . . Especially good on Franco's postwar Spain, van Hensbergen is well-informed on the artistic underground; on Franco's attempt to use young Spanish vanguard artists as pawns in his political maneuvers with Europe and the United States; and on horrifying events such as the sacking of an art gallery exhibiting Picasso's graphic work by the right-wing terrorist group Guerilleros del Cristo Rey in 1971 . . . [This] account will also be valuable to historians interested in Picasso's political positions. In careful, measured terms, [the author] describes the artist's lifelong interest in oppositional, radical causes, and unlike most American commentators, he takes the trouble to describe the circumstances under which Picasso joined the French Communist Party . . . The cultural climate within which Picasso made [this] decision, after World War II, was far from being the monolithic entity so easily attacked by North American critics."—The Washington Post Book World

"Van Hensbergen's Guernica is a revelation."John Richardson, author of A Life of Picasso

"Elegantly and passionately, Gijs van Hensbergen recreates the story of Picasso and his denunciation of war through a series of kaleidoscopically overlapping contexts. With a daunting but lightly-worn range of reference, he weaves together Picasso's personal life, the Spanish Republican exile, Franco's Spain, wartime Paris, and postwar New York to illuminate the journey from the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937 to the canvas's final arrival at Madrid's Reina Sofia gallery in 1992 . . . Compelling reading."—Paul Preston, author of Franco and The Spanish Civil War

"In the runup to the Iraq War, U.N. officials in New York hid a mural version of Pablo Picasso's painting depicting the 1936 fascist terror bombing of the Basque town of Gernika (as it is spelled in Basque) under a tasteful blue shroud—testifying to its continuing power. An acclaimed biographer of Gaudí, van Hensbergen turns in the definitive study of Picasso's antiwar masterpiece, which folds the disciplines of art criticism, political history, and biography into a passionate, detailed, and well-argued narrative. Beginning with a superb account of the work's genesis, both within the career of Picasso and against the terrible events of the Spanish Civil War, van Hensbergen not only helps us to understand the motifs and structures underlying the artist's great work but places them within the context of his life as a Spaniard in exile. The subsequent 'career' of the work is also illuminated, from its journey across the Atlantic—where it became a pivotal influence on postwar American painting—to its resonance as a symbol of resistance to the long reign of General Franco and its place in the national reconciliations that took place after Franco's death. To be an icon of any kind is to court the risk of overfamiliarity; van Hensbergen's beautifully written and usefully illustrated book restores the lustrous and terrible beauty of a major cultural work."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

Read an Excerpt

Gijs van Hensbergen lectures on architecture and is the author of Art Deco (1986), A Taste of Castile (1992, reissued 2003) and the acclaimed biography Gaudí (2001).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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  • Gijs van Hensbergen lectures on architecture and is the author of Art Deco, A Taste of Castile, and the acclaimed biography Gaudí.
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