Guernica, One of the Greatest Works of Modern Art?

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against...

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against Fascism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guernica was a sleepy Basque village in northern Spain that was unknown to much of the wider world… until April 27, 1937 when it was the target of the world’s first saturation-bombing raid.  General Francisco Franco allowed his fascist ally Hitler to test his new air force’s prowess.   At the time, military aviation was in its infancy and the world hadn’t yet seen massive aerial bombings.  The raid destroyed the town, causing destruction that previously had been unimaginable.

Ruins of Guernica (1937). The Spanish civil wa...

Ruins of Guernica (1937). The Spanish civil war claimed the lives of over half-a-million people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the time, Pablo Picasso was living in Paris.  When he read the news reports of Guernica, he quit working on other projects and set to work.   He worked on it feverishly and within a few weeks, he created a large mural measuring 87.17 meters (286 square feet).  When we were in Paris, we were surprised to walk out our door and see this plaque nearby.  It says “Pablo Picasso lived in this building from 1936 to 1955. It is in this workshop that he painted ‘Guernica’ in 1937.  It is here also that Balzac centered the action of his novel ‘Le Chef-d’œuvre Inconnu‘.”.

DSC_0586_2

Picasso exhibited it at the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. It turned out to be a masterpiece and is generally regarded as Picasso’s greatest work.   It combines various styles (Cubism, Surrealism and abstraction) to depict and comment on the horrors of war.  It wasn’t an immediate smash.  But over time, people gained an appreciation of its complex symbolism.  People reacted to the humanity depicted and the devastating effects of war on civilians.  It became a rallying-cry-in-paint to the anti-fascist cause.  When we were in Madrid, we made a special trip to the Reina Sofia Museum to see it.  It is incredibly moving and its use of symbolism is astonishing.  For a good analysis/explanation of the painting, click here or here.

Pablo Picasso pintando el Guernica (París, 1937)

Pablo Picasso pintando el Guernica (París, 1937) (Photo credit: Recuerdos de Pandora)

Happy Birthday Picasso!

Advertisements

Our Aixperience

We visited Aix-en-Provence and saw a knife fight.   That wasn’t the only thing we saw.

After leaving the restaurant at dusk, we strolled the streets.  Some towns roll up the sidewalks after dark; Aix does not.  It is practically mandatory to walk the streets in the evening and have a drink on cafe terraces.  Yep.  Streetwalking is mandatory.  It’s especially nice because the old town (vielle ville) is car free, easy to navigate and a manageable size.

Boulevard Mirabeau (Cours Mirabeau), is a grand avenue built on the site of the former ramparts in the 17th century.   Our favorite trees in Geneva, the plane tree, line and shade  the stately boulevard.  The overhanging trees provide much-needed shade on hot summer days.  Moss covered fountains are in the center of the avenue with stately old town houses behind the wide sidewalks.

We strolled it that evening, but went back the next morning to have coffee (and a croissant)  in the legendary café, Les Deux Garcons.  Dating from 1792, many famous people have dined here including: Picasso, Churchill, Edith Piaf, André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, Raimu, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean CocteauSophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Hugh Grant and George Clooney.  It was a regular haunt of Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola.  I can see why.  The cappuccino was tasty and the croissant was wonderfully light.  It was a treat to sit and watch the world pass.

Being American, we like a fast pace and giant to do lists.  It is impossible to live like that in Aix.  It is a place to stop, enjoy the view and make the mundane wonderful.

Aix is known for its many and varied markets.  They have normal markets, local producers markets, flower markets, antiques markets and old book markets.  We visited the morning market at Place Richelme (there are also markets at Place de Verdun, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and Place des Prêcheurs).  We picked up some fresh fruit and perused the many artisanal varieties of cheese, meats and breads.

 Aix-en-Provence is a university town (University of Provence Aix-Marseille) and filled with academics and students.  It also gets its fair share of aristocrats, people who are wealthy enough not to have to work and professionals.   It has a reputation for being a bit elitist.  If you are interested in Aix, it was immortalized by Peter Maille’s book “One Year in Provence.”

Like many other towns in the south of France (Arles, Orange, Vence), Aix was inhabited by the Romans.  They built thermal baths at Aix, Aquae Sextiae, around 2000 years ago.  Today you can visit the newer (18th-century hot-water baths) and modern spa built atop the old baths (you can see them from the lobby).

Picasso, Yachts And Ramparts In Antibes

You could drive the entire Côte d’Azur (aka the French Rivera) and see all the towns along it, but it would take you forever and all the traffic would drive you crazy.  We didn’t have the time (or stamina) to do it all.  Instead, we picked a few of the best towns on the coast: Antibes, Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer.  Antibes has sandy beaches (many on the Côte d’Azur are rocky), an agreeable old town, and a nice Picasso Museum.

When we get a yacht, we want one with a helicopter too.

Antibes’s port is filled with enormous luxury yachts.  We watched crews getting the yachts ready for the start of the season.  We didn’t see anyone famous, but in the past few days Jennifer Connelly, Princess Beatrice, Hayden Panettiere and Petra Nemcova have all been sighted there.

Before joining France in 1860, nearby Nice was under Italian rule. Antibes was the last French town before the Italian border. As a result, the French built a fort and some major ramparts.  From the harbor, you can see Fort Carre, in the center of the port.    We strolled the ramparts, enjoying the sun and the beautiful views.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote one of his best known works, Tender is the Night, based on life in Antibes.  Judging from the story, we thought Antibes wouldn’t be too laid back or plebeian.  Nevertheless, Antibes has a down-to-earth ambience.  Well, at least it’s more down to earth than many of the neighboring towns (Cannes, I’m looking at you).  Ramparts and towers wrap the old town and guard its medieval streets.

It’s not some dour medieval town.  Party animals like Rudolf Valentino and Charlie Chaplin partied here in the roaring 20’s.  Legend has it that water skiing was invented in Antibes in the 1920s.  In 1946 after World War II, 65-year-old Pablo Picasso moved there with 23-year-old lady friend, Françoise Gilot.  He experienced a surge in creativity, painting like a madman and partying hard.  The merry, festive atmosphere continues.  We saw lots of Brits enjoying a pint in the sun.

The 12th century Chateau Grimaldi, an old town mansion on the edge of the Mediterranean, houses the Picasso Museum (it’s where he stayed while in Antibes) and has stunning views.  We took a minute to enjoy the sculpture garden on the terrace before checking out the museum’s paintings, sketches, and ceramics.

Picasso said that if you wanted to see work from his Antibes period, you’d have to do it in Antibes.  Picasso was prolific.  One of the best parts about the museum was being able to see several versions of a painting or idea.  For example, we saw about 10 platters on which he’d painted bulls.  You could see his experimentation with styles and subjects.  Fascinating.

The old town is charming, sunny, relaxed and filled with Brits.  We wandered the craft market and the antique sales.  I know, I am such a sucker.

On the way back to the car, we noticed the yacht store had a Che painting on the door.  Where do I begin?