cover image GUERNICA: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

GUERNICA: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

Gijs van Hensbergen, . . Bloomsbury, $25.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-124-8

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. (Dec.)