...the Spanish Pavilion
Picasso and other avant-garde artists in the 1930's were concerned about their fate under the threat of growing fascism. José Luis Sert, who was the architect for the Spanish Pavilion, was a major player in gathering together Spanish intellectuals and artists for this particular cause. He was one of the people who came to visit Picasso in his studio and to talk to him about the possibility of making a major contribution to this project.

Spanish Pavilion at 1937 World's Fair
"This was a moment in which things looked pretty grim for the cause of Republican Spain. And certainly many Spanish intellectuals in Paris were very concerned about what they could do and what kind of reaction would be appropriate. The Spanish pavilion - which was the first and only national pavilion that Republican Spain ever had in a World Fair - drew together all the resources of the great artists and great Spanish luminaries who were in Paris."

"So the idea of approaching Picasso to contribute to this project seemed like a very reasonable one, since he was certainly one of the most well known Spanish artists in Paris at that particular moment. Exactly what he would do and what his contributions would be, of course got worked out in the process of looking at the space. More importantly, these ideas got worked out in connection with his own feelings about the progress of the war and the suffering of the Spanish people. And certainly when the project was initiated, no one knew that Guernica would be the outcome."

By early June of 1937, the Paris Exposition was already in progress. The German and Soviet pavilions towered above the fairgrounds, facing one another across the plaza in a monumental standoff of ideological posturing. In their shadow stood the modest Spanish Pavilion. Opening seven weeks late, it missed the wide publicity of the Fair's grand opening and received little recognition. It wasn't even shown on the official maps.

Nazi German & Soviet Pavilions

The Pavilion had been designed primarily to affirm the legitimacy of the Spanish Republic and to condemn the attacks of Franco's Nationalist army, which now controlled over half the country with the support of Mussolini and Hitler. Specifically, the pavilion's goal was to praise the Republic's social programs, particularly those in agriculture and education, and to bring worldwide attention to the suffering of the Spanish people in the civil war.

At the entrance to the pavilion, the visitor was confronted by an enormous photographic mural of Republican soldiers, accompanied by the slogan:

We are fighting for the essential unity of Spain.
We are fighting for the integrity of Spanish soil.
We are fighting for the independence of our country and for
the right of the Spanish people to determine their own destiny.

A poem written by
Paul Eluard to accompany Guernica was displayed, along with the works of other well known artists sympathetic to the Republican cause, including
Guernica at Spanish Pavilion
Joan Miro's large canvas of an upraised arm and clenched fist, and Alexander Calder's mercury fountain and mobile, painted red to symbolize the Spanish Republic. Picasso's postcards of The Dream and Lie of Franco were on sale to raise funds for relief work. Showing almost continuously in the auditorium were documentary films about the civil war, including Madrid '36 by Luis Buñuel and Spanish Earth by Joris Ivens and Ernest Hemingway, which graphically depicted the suffering of the Spanish people.

"When you walked into the Spanish Pavilion, instead of seeing a glorification of the wonders of technology, you saw photographs of dead children. In the open-air film pavilion you saw very dramatic films about the brutality of Franco's troops and the suffering of the people in Spain. It was something that people really didn't want to be reminded of, necessarily, when they came to a World Fair," adds Failing.

The main attraction, Picasso's Guernica, was anything but a celebration of the marvels of technology. Many found it repulsive and contrary to the spirit of the Exhibition - even those who were sympathetic to the cause. "If you can't in a political painting very clearly point out the good guys and the bad guys," explains Failing, "or very clearly identify the characters in symbolic terms, this is something that's difficult for people who have expectations based on earlier concepts of political paintings."

"I paint this way because it's a result of my thought," Picasso responded. "I have worked for years to obtain this result... I can't use an ordinary manner just to have the satisfaction of being understood!"

One notable exception to the bad press was the prestigious French journal, Cahiers d'Art. Featuring Guernica in a double issue, Picasso's creation is defended and celebrated with emotional tributes and eloquent writings from many intellectuals and artists:

Guernica sketches featured in Cahiers d'Art
"These visionary forms have an evocative power greater than shapes drawn with every realistic detail. They challenge people to truly comprehend the effects of their actions." (Christian Zervos)

"Our epoch is grand, dramatic and dangerous, and Picasso, because he is equal to his circumstances, makes a picture worthy of them." Guernica is an "appalling drama of a great people abandoned to the tyrants of the Dark Ages . . .All the world can see, can understand, this immense Spanish tragedy." (Amedé Ozenfant)

The stark, disturbing vision, once dismissed as "the dream of a madman," proved prophetic when Europe was plunged into a war that engulfed the world.

civil war | the cause | bombing Guernica | Picasso's process | Spanish Pavilion
art & politics | Guernica in exile | questions of meaning | timeline

Mona Lisa
detail from Guernica
Lilies of the Valley Faberge Egg
Hope Diamond
Taj Mahal
scene from Borobudur

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