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Martin Hurcombe on Picasso’s Guernica

14 May 2007

Dr Martin Hurcombe of the Department of French was recently interviewed by Pravda newspaper in Slovakia about the 70th anniversary of Picasso’s Guernica and the bombing that inspired it.

On 26 April 1937, German planes bombed the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, in support of the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco. The attack killed more than 200 people and destroyed most of the town. Guernica has become a symbol for the devastation of war and is commemorated in Pablo Picasso’s famous painting.

Dr Hurcombe, who is working on French cultural representations of the Spanish Civil War, commented on the aims of the attack. The Basques were particularly targeted, he said, because, arguably, although largely Catholic, they chose to support the Republic, which offered a better chance of autonomy in the long term than a far-Right regime under Franco. He added that the Luftwaffe used the attack as a means of testing carpet-bombing and incendiary devices on civilian rather than strictly military targets; Guernica was where this technique was used for the first time.

The painting itself, Dr Hurcombe remarked, helped to raise international awareness of the bombing when it was exhibited in Paris in the spring/early summer of 1937. ‘It has also managed to keep the memory of Guernica alive when the Spanish Civil War more generally and its many horrors have been dwarfed in European memory by the Second World War,’ he said.

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