Picasso’s War

Martin Russell. Picasso’s War: the Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece that Changed the World. Dutton, 2002.

Reason read: the bombing of Guernica happened on April 26th, 1937. Read in honor and memory of the lives lost that day.

On May 11th, 1937, only two weeks after the insurgent Nazi Condor Legion bombed Guernica, Spain, Pablo Picasso commenced painting his famous masterpiece. While Picasso’s War celebrates Picasso’s work of art, “Guernica,” it also paints a biography of Picasso, the passionately flawed man. Picasso who couldn’t stay faithful to one woman; Picasso who saved everything ever given to him. As an aside, these two details make me believe I would have never gotten along with him. As a painter, his art was as polarizing as cilantro. In 1981 the famous painting still had to be protected from terrorists with armed guards.
Coincidentally, Martin was standing in from of “Guernica” on September 11th, 2001.
As an aside, I love books that make me want to explore more. I looked up Picasso’s cartoons “Dream and Lie of Franco” because of Russell’s book.
The biggest surprise for me was learning of Herbert Southworth, an unsung hero of the Guernica saga. He had a clerical job at the Library of Congress and he was convinced he could get to the bottom of who actually bombed Guernica. Despite denials, he needed to convince the American public of Franco’s threat to Democracy.

Author fact: Martin also wrote Beethoven’s Hair which was a bestseller. I am only reading Picasso’s War for the reading Challenge.

Book trivia: I wanted photography in Martin’s book. If nothing else, just a picture of Picasso’s famous Guernica for reference.

Playlist: Beatles and Joan Baez.

Nancy said: Pearl said Picasso’s War was “wonderfully readable” (Book Lust To Go p 90).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Guernica” (p 89).


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).