Van Hensbergen, Gijs. Guernica: the Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004.
Reason read: April is the anniversary month of the Guernica bombing during the Spanish Civil War.
[If you are reading Guernica based on Nancy Pearl’s recommendation in Book Lust To Go: the very first thing you need to know about the book Guernica is that it follows the life of Pablo Picasso’s painting and is less about the Basque region or the bombing that inspired the art. Book Lust To Go is supposed to focus on geography so if you were looking to read about Guernica the place, this isn’t the book.]
But, back to Guernica (the book): Picasso was commissioned to make a political statement through art in reaction to the three hours of horrific, indiscriminate, nonstop slaughter of the Basque town of Gernika. Later, the painting was sent to America to raise funds for the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign to help alleviate the horrible conditions in the internment camps. Later still, Paloma Picasso used the painting as blackmail whenever a particular region wanted to show the painting in their museums. The influence of Picasso’s painting was far=reaching. After the May 16th 1968 Mylai slaughter people remembered Guernica.
Quotes worth mentioning, “We must never underestimate the idealism of many of those who had gone to Spain to fight, or the pain of the dislocated exiles who were never again going to return” (p 167) and, “It had, it must be remembered, only been a few years since the Basque writer Xabier Gereno has been jailed for committing the crime of receiving a postcard commemorating Guernica” (p 264).
As an aside, I felt like Van Hensbergen had an issue with Peggy Guggenheim, constantly calling attention to her personality by describing her as “sexually voracious” and “hotheaded.”
Author fact: Van Hensbergen’s specialty is architecture. He lectures on the subject.
Book trivia: throughout Guernica there are black and white photographs, but the showstoppers are the three color prints of Picasso’s most famous pieces of work: Weeping Woman, Guernica, and Night Fishing at Antibes.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Guernica” (p 89).