Monday 15 June 2009

Picasso, Malaga and Guernica

Malaga, 2009
© Kathryn Mackenzie

I've just returned from a week's yoga holiday in the idyllic surroundings of Casa Mayor, a beautiful villa in the mountains of Andalucía, about 40 minutes drive from Malaga. I wouldn't have thought I could fit archives into a yoga holiday but I managed it with a visit to the wonderful Picasso Museum in Malaga.

I hadn't realised that Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga so it seems only fitting that there is a museum in his honour in the city. I had been told Malaga wasn't worth seeing but nothing could be further from the truth. It was a lovely old town with a really interesting history, lots of beautiful buildings and parks, and the Picasso Museum. I wish I'd remembered to take some photos of the outside of the building as it's a lovely building, and there were absolutely no photos allowed inside the building. The work in the collection was donated by Picasso's daughter-in-law, Christine Ruiz-Picasso and his grandson, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso.

View of Malaga from the Gibralfaro Castle, 2009
© Kathryn Mackenzie

There is a huge variety of work on display, reflecting the breadth of Picasso's talents and interests. The collection includes, in addition to paintings, sculptures, drawings, sketchbooks, ceramics, engravings, photographs of the artist at work on outdoor sculptures, and various forms of print-making. It was great seeing all his drawings and sketch books and getting an idea of how the creative process worked. For me it is as important and rewarding to see the sketchbooks and drawings as it is to see the finished work as without all this extra information there's no way of knowing how the finished work is arrived at. Though I guess you could take the view of the artist as 'genius', a creative mind working alone to create art, I would rather see how the ideas developed and who else was involved in the creative process (there is work by a number of artists with whom Picasso collaborated, including the sculptor Julio Gonzalez). It was also very useful to see that so much of the work was dated, even the sketchbooks in some cases. Dating his work was something he had been doing for a long time, maybe this has something to do with being so famous in his own lifetime - he was already aware of how well his art was and would be regarded and therefore could see the value in attributing works in time and space, creating his own archive as he went along.

Whilst at the Museum I bought a really interesting book Picasso's War: the destruction of Guernica, and the masterpiece that changed the world, by Russell Martin. I've still never seen Picasso's Guernica but one day I'll make the trip to Madrid. The book charts the history of the Spanish Civil War and Guernica, the place, and how it was that Picasso came to paint Guernica, and then goes on to discuss the reception of the painting at the time, and in the decades that followed. There are a couple of points from the book that stick in my mind. The first being that, as with other work, Picasso dated his sketches and development work for this painting, but in addition, for the first time, Guernica was also photographed at many stages of its development by Dora Maar, a photographer and artist who at that time was also the lover of Picasso.

Picasso entrusted Guernica to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1938 and it would stay in America, with short tours elsewhere, until 1981. MoMA weren't keen to return the work but the Government of Spain used archives to help secure its return to Spain. They provided assurances that the work would be safe, they gained the support of a number of Picasso's family members', and they used documents to prove that, in 1937, the Spanish government had paid Picasso for his materials for the painting (Picasso didn't want payment from the Government for painting the work as it was his way of supporting the cause of the Republican Government), and that Picasso had gifted the painting to Spain.


  1. You might be interested in seeing this work at the Whitechapel Gallery sometime when you're London.

  2. Thanks Jess. I just looked back through Russell Martin's book and it talks about the showing of Guernica at the Whitechapel Gallery. It says visitors were only admitted to the show if they brought with them a wearable pair of boots to be donated to the poor and badly equipped Republican soldiers.

    I hadn't heard about the tapestry though - covering it up whilst Colin Powell makes his speech just illustrates governments refusals to face the human costs of war. I know that there have been visits from victims of Hiroshima to Guernica and it really makes you wonder why on earth those in power can never learn from the past.

    Thanks for letting me know about it. I love the idea of the room being free for groups to use on the proviso that they give photographs, recordings or minutes to the gallery for them to add to their archive.

  3. Spain's cultural diversity is incredible. One section differs considerably from that of other parts---a truism in every country, but especially so there.

    I first learned about Picasso by way of Gertrude Stein, whose Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas features him prominently.

  4. That sounds like a really interesting book, thanks. I saw a film a while ago 'Paris was a Woman' which featured Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas and I have been meaning to read more about them and about that period of Parisian life for a while. Another book to place on my Amazon shopping list!