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Guernica: Painting the End of the World (The Landmark Library Book 5)

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Pablo Picasso had already accepted a commission in 1937 to create a work for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris World Fair when news arrived of the assault by the German Condor Legion on the undefended Basque town of Guernica, in which hundreds of civilians died. James Attlee offers an illuminating account of the genesis, creation and many-stranded afterlife of P Pablo Picasso had already accepted a commission in 1937 to create a work for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris World Fair when news arrived of the assault by the German Condor Legion on the undefended Basque town of Guernica, in which hundreds of civilians died. James Attlee offers an illuminating account of the genesis, creation and many-stranded afterlife of Picasso's Guernica. He explores the historical context from which it sprang; the artistic influences that informed its execution; the critical responses that it elicited; its journeyings across Europe and America in the late 1930s; its post-war adoption by new generations of anti-war protestors; and its eventual return to Spain following the death of Franco.


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Pablo Picasso had already accepted a commission in 1937 to create a work for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris World Fair when news arrived of the assault by the German Condor Legion on the undefended Basque town of Guernica, in which hundreds of civilians died. James Attlee offers an illuminating account of the genesis, creation and many-stranded afterlife of P Pablo Picasso had already accepted a commission in 1937 to create a work for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris World Fair when news arrived of the assault by the German Condor Legion on the undefended Basque town of Guernica, in which hundreds of civilians died. James Attlee offers an illuminating account of the genesis, creation and many-stranded afterlife of Picasso's Guernica. He explores the historical context from which it sprang; the artistic influences that informed its execution; the critical responses that it elicited; its journeyings across Europe and America in the late 1930s; its post-war adoption by new generations of anti-war protestors; and its eventual return to Spain following the death of Franco.

36 review for Guernica: Painting the End of the World (The Landmark Library Book 5)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Hansen

    This is an art book for general readers. There are pictures in it, even some in colour, but they never detract from the text. Whilst the illustrations may be few, their relative scarcity means that the book is compact, portable and easy to read. Whilst it may be a far cry from your average unwieldy coffee table tome, brimming with glossy illustrations, its authoritative text never hides in the ivory tower of scholarly obscurity or, heaven forbid, tedium, such is the purview of much unillustrated This is an art book for general readers. There are pictures in it, even some in colour, but they never detract from the text. Whilst the illustrations may be few, their relative scarcity means that the book is compact, portable and easy to read. Whilst it may be a far cry from your average unwieldy coffee table tome, brimming with glossy illustrations, its authoritative text never hides in the ivory tower of scholarly obscurity or, heaven forbid, tedium, such is the purview of much unillustrated art history. This tastefully designed book is, thankfully, free of the usual impenetrable postmodern guff that ruins so many other theoretical books on art. On the other hand, sometimes it reads like a thesis with stock phrases such as, “we have already discussed...” and “let us start our investigation...”. Judicious editing could easily have avoided such donnish tropes but, on the whole, this book is very well put-together. If you are looking for a gripping narrative non-fiction, which bends the truth to fit its maverick purpose, one which has a jaunty disregard for facts, like Edmund De Waal’s Hare with the Amber Eyes, for example, this is not the book for you. Attlee’s Guernica gives you the straight dope on Picasso’s great painting and its impact on our culture over the last eighty years since it was first displayed at the World Fair in Paris in 1937, without straying from brass tacks. It never indulges fanciful notions, conspiracy theories, it does not posture or proselytise; it presents a clear-sighted, hard-nosed, unyielding unpicking of the mass of criticism that has gone before it and, in so doing, offers fresh insights into this pivotal work of modern art for generations to come. Despite the author’s admirable adherence to the facts, this book only really takes off when Attlee departs from the script. It’s always the ad libs, the asides, the extempore leaps of imagination that make this writer’s work stand out. Sticking to a linear narrative was never his forté and the book is at its weakest when its author pays lip-service to his duty as a serious historian by following a traditional narrative path. The upside of Attlee’s new-found orthodoxy, however, is that the casual reader can merrily follow the painting’s journey without feeling misled or chronologically challenged by the fascinating diversions, of which there are still ample to satisfy Attlee’s less sequentially inclined fans. Alongside the catalogue to the 1939 New York World Fair and conventional media such as The Spectator and The Telegraph, Attlee’s diverse sources include the World Socialist website and Vimeo. He even manages to slip references to Fake News and Jay-Z (entirely unrelated, I hasten to add) into the main text, bringing it right up to the moment. Attlee admirably circumnavigates the jargon of art criticism, keeping it real for an amateur audience. He describes photomontage, for example and the importance of film and new media and their impact on Picasso and his contemporaries after Walter Benjamin’s seminal 1936 essay in an avuncular but unpatronizing way. He talks about Josep Renau and Feminism as to a lay audience without alienating the more knowledgeable reader. He makes no attempt to downplay the visionaries of the period, who were already upstaging misogynist exile Picasso and his fuddy-duddy Greek Classical allusions whilst venerating the painting without fetishizing it. The author is well-read, right-on and forever rational. He never indulges the arcane, the whacky or the overbearing. He is a steady guide, although perhaps one might wish from time-to-time he were to take some of the flights of fancy or heady rock ’n’ roll road trips, for which he found literary fame in his previous works. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to read interpretive art history unfettered by the highbrow neologisms and recondite shibboleths, which are so often employed to obscure the discipline to all but a handful of experts. This book is not preaching to an inner clique; it does not indulge the arcane ideologies or incomprehensible pronouncements, that have been made about Guernica in the past; it is a straightforward and credible revision of previous writings and a concise, unequivocal analysis of a single work of art tailored to the world today, in which images abound and great works of art adorn bags, T-shirts and umbrellas the world over. Sometimes the writer might sit on the fence, which can make him appear naïve. Dora Maar (her fascinating photographs of the work in progress apart), for instance, strikes one as a wholly unreliable witness wherever Picasso is concerned. Her revelations contradict all other critics. She goes so far as to claim she painted the last few brushstrokes herself. Unfortunately, Attlee takes her testimony at face value. Do I detect prudishness or the blue pen of a censor perhaps? Attlee demurely recounts how Picasso had a view from under the table to witness Alice Toklas’ knees knocking during an air-raid, whereas in more ribald versions of the tale, certain wags would have it, that she actually pissed herself. About the painting, a great deal is made of the absence of male protagonists and, with regard to the bombing of the city of Gernika, the perpetrators. The author points out that the aggressors were indeed invisible to the inhabitants of the town, raining anonymous terror down from the sky for the first time in history - the dawn of the age of the H-bomb. An exciting and revealing chapter detailing the painting’s legacy in contemporary art appears, logically, at the end of the book. Perhaps a more Cubist approach to the structure would have served it well. If, for example, this section had been placed at the beginning to give background to how art is abused, commandeered and misinterpreted by subsequent generations (its exploitation in a recruitment advertisement for the Bundeswehr being particularly troubling, for example). Whilst well edited, one wonders whether the chronological narrative was the right choice. After all, the author gratefully abandons the straightforward perception of time at the end, opting for a repetitive view of historical events. Unfortunately, he sees a circularity in darkness only and does not take into account the counterbalance of the cycle of light. Attlee always has some fantastic, throwaway one-liners - on the security measures surrounding the painting on its return to Spain, for example, he muses, “whether this is to prevent attacks on the painting or contagion from the unanswered accusations it contains is not clear.” Although there is plenty of contemporary context, the tragedy of the bombing of the town is barely within living memory, which makes this study truly historical, although the author does meet a woman working at the Guggenheim Bilbao, who recounts that her grandmother survived the attack. This is one of the most comical sequences in the book as, each time the author returns to the museum’s front desk, he is sent on yet another mission to a different part of the museum in search of the sacred spot supposedly reserved for the painting, upon which no-one in the museum’s administration can quite agree. Appropriately, his conclusion is right on the money – Attlee does not indulge in the bitter polemic of Antonio Saura nor the idealistic partisanship of André Malraux, but instead offers a rational reading appropriate to this day and age. Attlee concludes, quite rightly, that the painting will never lose its meaning, it will always exist in the present. He even prefaces his final chapter with a quote from Picasso himself as irrefutable backup to this theory, “If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all.” This is art history at its streetwise best. You’ll come out of a few pleasant hours reading this book feeling jolly clever, forewarned, forearmed and ready to joust with the silver-tongued, arty-farty boffins off the telly. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bill Lawrence

    A fascinating insight to a fascinating painting. Attlee covers a lot of ground from the Spanish Civil War to modern appropriation of Guernica; international politics to individual responses to this extraordinary work. A very readable history of the painting from early ideas to completion in 1937 and then its life on tour around the world to finally settling, controversially, in Madrid. For anyone interested in painting and particular this work, it is an illuminating read - but I haven't read any A fascinating insight to a fascinating painting. Attlee covers a lot of ground from the Spanish Civil War to modern appropriation of Guernica; international politics to individual responses to this extraordinary work. A very readable history of the painting from early ideas to completion in 1937 and then its life on tour around the world to finally settling, controversially, in Madrid. For anyone interested in painting and particular this work, it is an illuminating read - but I haven't read any of the many other books on the subject.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lucky

    《格尔尼卡》虽然从战争的悲剧中诞生,但二十世纪特殊的意识形态之争让它几乎成为了始于西班牙内战的一次跨越整个世纪的人类集体创作,这部作品包括毕加索本人的形象随着历史的进程被不断瓦解与重塑。它到底是艺术还是政治,又或是艺术的政治、政治的艺术?我想,一个确凿的解释可能是关于《格尔尼卡》最不重要的部分。

  4. 4 out of 5

    Monika

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  14. 5 out of 5

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  16. 5 out of 5

    Ostenfanse Lexuese Shkrimtare Austenfan Reader Writer

  17. 4 out of 5

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  18. 5 out of 5

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    Andrew McCluskey

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  31. 4 out of 5

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  32. 4 out of 5

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  33. 5 out of 5

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  34. 4 out of 5

    Shuang Liu

  35. 5 out of 5

    Kendra Queen

  36. 5 out of 5

    Yael Benady

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