Basque Country salutes the “forgotten” story of Picasso’s Guernica | Spain
The grief-stricken mother is still there, cradling her dead child 84 years later, as is the fallen soldier with his stigmata and the horse with his silent cries.
However, the Guernica now on its way to a museum in the Basque Country is not the monochrome howl of Pablo Picasso’s anti-fascist fury, but an account of the work meant to help bring the original to the market town whose agonies under the waves of German and Italian bombers inspired its creation – and to denounce the subsequent horrors of the Franco dictatorship.
Basque artist Agustín Ibarrola painted Guernica Gernikara in 1977 as part of a campaign to bring Picasso’s masterpiece, perhaps the most famous painting of the 20th century, to Guernica after his long exile at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
But when he finally got into the hold of an Iberia 747 in 1981, Guernica ended up in Madrid, where he remains to this day.
Ibarrola’s work had suffered a less public and itinerant fate until last week, when it was removed from the artist’s studio in the Basque Country and exhibited at the annual Madrid International Contemporary Art Fair. (Arco).
The reappearance of “Forgotten Guernica” and its 10 oil-painted canvas panels has been widely reported in the Spanish media and is now being re-evaluated and celebrated in its own right.
The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum – which last exhibited the painting 40 years ago – bought it for € 300,000 (£ 260,000) thanks to contributions from the Basque government, the Provincial Council of Biscay and of the Bilbao City Hall.
“This new acquisition returns to the public one of the most important works of Basque artistic heritage of the twentieth century,” the museum said in a statement. “Not only is the painting linked to the museum’s own history, it will also greatly enrich the presence of Agustín Ibarrola in the collection.”
The museum noted that Guernica Gernikara was more than just a tribute, adding: her condemnation of the climate of oppression of [Franco] dictatorship and its calls for freedom.
This oppression is most evident in the dark and menacing police officers who invade the last panels of the painting, partially obscuring the word Guernica.
Gallery owner José de la Mano, who stumbled upon photographs of the painting and eventually managed to bring it to Arco, said Guernica Gernikara told the story of the end of the dictatorship and the transition from the Spain towards democracy after Franco’s death. It also reflected the imprisonment and torture suffered by Ibarrola under the regime.
“To have a copy of Guernica in the ’70s and’ 80s was a real declaration of intent,” he told online newspaper Público. “[Ibarrola’s] 40 years later, the interpretation is in fact an interpretation of the transition. It is an image of social struggles, bars and the police: it interprets the end of the dictatorship. And don’t forget that [Ibarrola] spent five years in prison.
De la Mano added that although the painting could have cost well over € 300,000, Ibarrola’s family – now almost 91 years old – were delighted to see it return to the public at the Bilbao Museum after so many years. .
“Coming back to Bilbao closes the loop,” he said. “It was shown there in 1977 in a space called the Gray Room. It is very important for the family that this is their final destination.