Venus Of Willendorf

Believed to have been made in 30,000 BCE, the Venus of Willendorf is a tiny sculpture with a massive history. 

Found on August 7th, 1908, the sculpture gives historians and archeologists an inside look into some of the traditions and beliefs of early man. 

A Limestone Sculpture

Venus of Willendorf stands at 11.1 centimeters tall, or just about 4.4 inches. The figurine was discovered during excavations conducted by archaeologists Hugo Obermaier, Josef Szombathy, and Josef Bayer. 

The figure doesn’t have a visible face, but her head is covered with a kind of headdress or rows of plaited hair. 

It’s believed that the figure was carved during the European Upper Paleolithic, often referred to as the “Old Stone Age”. Stratigraphy of the site in which the figure was discovered suggests that it was made between 28,000 BCE and 25,000 BCE, making the figure nearly 30,000 years older than any person alive today!

You can see the figurine for yourself at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. 

The Purpose Of The Figurine

This isn’t the first statuette to depict a nude woman. In fact, similar figures discovered in the 1800s and 1900s were referred to as “Venus figurines”.

Of course, figurines like this one predate the mythology of Venus by thousands of years. Because of this, you may find that scholars, archeologists, and art historians refer to the figure as the “Woman of” or “Woman from Willendorf”. 

There isn’t much more known about the figure’s origins, though, both in how it was created and what kind of significance it may have held at the time of its creation. 

One hypothesis behind the creation of the piece comes from Catherine McCoid and LeRoy McDermott. The two believe that these figurines may have been self-portraits. This follows the idea that some of the proportions may have come from women looking down at themselves, as this would have been the only way to view their bodies at the time. 

However, the theory has been criticized by those who say that pools of water could have been used as “mirrors”. 

Upper Paleolithic Art

Venus of Willendorf isn’t the only example of Upper Paleolithic art that you can see today. 

This form of art is the oldest known to man and is present in Europe and Indonesia. Both figurative and non-figurative cave paintings date back as far as 40,000 years. 

The study of this artwork has been used to theorize upon the behavioral characteristics of those humans living at the time. 

European Upper Paleolithic rock, such as Venus of Willendorf, includes such things as cave paintings, jewelry, drawings, carvings, engravings, and sculptures. These were typically made out of such things as: 

  • Clay
  • Bone
  • Antler
  • Ivory
  • Stone

A Key To The Past

As we continue to learn more about the Venus of Willendorf, we’ll continue learning more about humanity’s past – and the ways in which art played a part in everyday life.

Discobolus, Myron – Sculpture

Often known as “The Discus Thrower”, the Discobolus of Myron is a classic, widely recognizable Greek sculpture. 

Created between 460-450 BC, the original sculpture has been lost to time. However, a variety of Roman copies in both bronze and marble have allowed generations to witness the beauty of the piece. 

A Long, Legendary History 

The Discobolus of Myron is attributed to Myron of Eleutherae, an Athenian sculptor from the mid 5th century BC. 

The first-ever copy of the sculpture was discovered around 1781. Dating back to the 1st century AD, the copy was discovered at a Roman property in the Villa Palombara on the Esquiline Hill. It was restored by Giuseppe Angelini and then installed at the Massimo family’s Palazzo Massimo all Colonne.

Italian archaeologist Giovanni Battista Visconti identified the sculpture as a copy from the original, making it instantly famous. 

In 1938, Adolf Hitler negotiated to purchase the statue. Galeazzo Ciano sold it to him for five million lire, much to the disappointment of Italy’s community of scholars. However, it was returned to Italy in 1948, and can now be found in the National Museum of Rome, displayed at the Palazzo Massimo.

An Homage To Athleticism

According to art historian Kenneth Clark, “Myron has created the enduring pattern of athletic energy. He has taken a moment of action so transitory that students of athletics still debate if it is feasible, and he has given it the completeness of a cameo.” 

This moment is captured in an example of “rhythmos”, a greek term for harmony and balance.

Because of the fluidity of this and several other of his works, Myron is credited with being one of the first – if not the first – sculptors to master this particular style. 

A Classical Sculpture

“Discobolus” is an example of Classical Archaic sculpture. The Archaic period, which is thought to have run from the 8th to the early 5th century BC, moved into classical sculpture through advancements like the ones seen in Discobolus. 

Though the bodies of these sculptures were idealized, there was still a level of naturalism that was adhered to throughout classical pieces. This is certainly the case with “Discobolus”, as the subject twists his torso to ramp up for the discus throw. 

Myron Of Eleutherae

Born in Eleutherae, Myron produced most of his work in bronze. Most of his fame was attributed to his presentations of athletes, including the famous “Discobolus” sculpture. 

He’s known for having revolutionized the representation of these athletes, introducing bold poses and potential energy too much of his work. 

Besides “Discobolus”, some of Myron’s most famous work includes a statue of Minerva or Athena, a statue of Hercules, and a statue of Apollo for the city of Ephesus. 

A Statue Of Grace And Energy 

A gorgeous representation of classical work, Myron’s “Discobolus” features many of the innovations that would transform Hellenistic sculptures. If you have the chance to see the copy of “Discobolus” at the National Museum of Rome, you should definitely take some time to see the sculpture in person!

Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate

Anish Kapoor is an Indian-born artist with multiple sculptures, paintings, and other artworks to his name.

Perhaps the most famous artwork he had ever created is Cloud Gate. Never heard of it? Sure you have! You probably just call it “Chicago’s Bean.”

The Bean

Cloud Gate is referred to as the Bean because of its overt, bean-like shape when viewed from a lateral angle. However, the colloquial title, The Bean, doesn’t captivate the essence of the artwork nearly as well as Cloud Gate.

Anish Kapoor designed and built Cloud Gate between the years of 2004 and 2006 in Millenium Park, Chicago, where it remains as of 2019. Day or night, the 168 steel plates that compose the exterior of the structure mingle with the light of the city.

The purpose of this rather ambitious steel sculpture is 42 feet wide, 66 feet long, and 32 feet high. At all times, the polished, metallic finish reflects the light of the city, acting as a gate to both the clouds and the concrete jungle surrounding it.

The Origins of the Gate

Cloud Gate was intended to be more than a simple gate welcoming people to the park while blending into the structures of an archway, fence, etcetera. Instead, this piece took the form of a massive metallic structure that wrapped the clouds, city, and sky together in one simple stroke.

Kapoor wanted Cloud Gate to be more than that, more than the traditional, humdrum landscaping ornament that goes unnoticed in a public space, a role into which almost all gates and entryways fall today.

With the creation of a massive, steel structure that manipulates the Sun, stars, and the sky while creating the illusion that the viewers can simply walk right up into them, Kappor did just that.

One out of Two Proposals

In 1999, two proposals were sent before the planning committee for Millenium Park. The park might have had an entirely different look with a stranger and more peculiar feel had this “futuristic” steel bean not been chosen for construction in the park.

Pitched on a budget of $6 million, construction of Cloud Gate would go on to more than triple that, with the final cost of production weighing in at more than $18 million.

More of Kapoor

Although when people think of Anish Kapoor they think of the “Bean,” he has created multiple prominent public art displays each with a unique sense of import and smooth styling that plays with unity and light in an interesting manner.

One such piece is Kapoor’s Sky Mirror, a polished stainless-steel mirror almost exactly 35 feet in diameter. This piece accomplished much of what Cloud Gate accomplished, but was only on display for just over a month.


One of the greatest living contemporaries, at least in terms of fame and success, Anish Kapoor continues to surprise us by creating ingenious works of art that brilliantly capture the power of the sky, the turbulence of the clouds, and the human yearning for elevation and spirituality.

Louise Bourgeois – Spider

The motif of spiders was more than just an eight-legged arachnid capable of feats of incredible strength given its size.

To Louise Bourgeois, the spider was a symbol of her mother, a powerful, strong, caretaker as ready to protect as to weave a web of support for her daughter.

. To Louise Bourgeois, the spider was a symbol of her mother, a powerful, strong, caretaker as ready to protect as to weave a web of support for her daughter.

Maman (1999)

The image of the spider as a positive influence first appeared in the work of Louis Bourgeois in the 1940s. Bourgois saw the spider as a sort of guardian figure, as powerful as it was mistaken by society.

That power is demonstrated in the massive size of the Maman, crafter from bronze, marble, and stainless steel. More than 30 feet high, Maman towers over all who approach it, filling viewers with a sense of proportion capable of dwarfing the strongest person and making them feel weak, yet secure.

While this sculpture bears the universal image of the spider, occupying the form of the sculpture, the essence is much more deeply personal than that, probing into the psychology of the collective unconscious.

If you wish to see this enormous sculpture on display, head to the Long Museum in Shanghai China. The Maman was moved there in 2018 and remains as of 2019.

A Mother’s Love

Louis Bourgeois was strikingly close to her mother, in part because of the terrifying childhood she had and the protection afforded to her by her mother. Bourgeois was born in Paris, France, in 1911, and would have first been forming memories when the Germans began to invade in 1914.

The German military poured over the borders into France in the end of 1914 and waged countless bloody battles over the years that followed. 

Casualties were so severe and destruction was so widespread in France that a single battle, the Battle of Verdun, resulted in more than 162,000 deaths and another 118,000 living casualties. Bourgeois was certain to have endured this destruction and seen the suffering of the war firsthand.

A Standalone Piece

Louise Bourgeois’s Maman is not part of any particular collection, at least it wasn’t intended to be. Maman was designed simply as an overtly ambitious attempt to create a massive portrayal of the spider, the theme that permeated all of Bourgeois’s works.

More Spider-Influenced Designs

Bourgeois produced more than a dozen famous works, many of which incorporated the motif of the spider into their structures or imagery.

One of Bourgeois’s pieces that details the pain and suffering imprinted on her by being raised in a war and surrounded by death and destruction from an early age is The Destruction of the Father, created in 1974.

In this piece, Bourgeois not only created a cave-like / womb-like surface scattered with objects and designs that resembled severed body parts, but she also incorporated real hunks of lamb into the sculpture to further highlight the violence and gore of the piece.


From a violent upbringing to her death in the security of New York City, Louise Bourgeois lived a varied and diverse life. As a child essentially born into war, she was protected by her mother for years.

As she matured and her mother was no longer with her, she lived through countless more wars, never forgetting the image of her mother as a protective spider watching over her.

Yayoi Kusama, Accumulation No 1 – Sculpture

Among the most peculiar pieces of avant garde sculpting ever created is Yayoi Kusama’s Accumulation No 1.


Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama created Accumulation No 1 in 1962, but it was not shown to the public until its inclusion in the “Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968” collection in 1988. 

To provide a singular description of what Accumulation No 1 looks like would be a disservice to the sculpture. Meant to be displayed in the center of the room, this artwork appears different from every angle.

The general aesthetic however, is one of shocking oddities. Not only does the armchair base look blob-like and misshapen, as though it had been dripped on by sediment-laden water for centuries, the fabric and enamel protrusions quite vividly remember male genitalia.

This perception is further supported by a quote from Kusama herself, saying that many of her artworks “bristle with phalluses.” This effect is compounded when one understands that she used the exact same materials as the preeminent male avant garde artists Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning.

The Healing Process

As with all of Yayoi Kusama’s artworks, Accumulation No 1 began from a place of love and a desire for acceptance, although not of herself.

Kusama believed that by crafting various forms and shapes of the male genitalia, she could heal these negative emotions within herself and grow to become a more loving and understanding person.

Through a process of hand-stitching and hand-crafting hundreds of phalluses, Kusama was able to heal her emotions and render a vivid portrayal of what she had been feeling in the form of a simple armchair completely devoured and consumed by genitalia.

Love Forever

Kusama had several of her more influential pieces displayed in the exhibition entitled “Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968.” Each of these pieces was indicative of Kusama’s minimalist stylings and pop influences in a predominantly avant garde manner.

Among the other works displayed in this exhibit was the Infinity Room–Phalli’s Field piece. A pioneer of its time, this piece was the embodiment of all the repetitive, shock-inducing emotions that Kusama had been producing in that time.

What sets this piece apart, however, was the fact that these aspects were all captured in a physical medium that enable the viewers to undergo a perceptual experience of the art rather than simply perceiving it.

Additional Works

Over the past several decades, Kusama has produced countless works of art, though not all of them have gone on to receive the levels of critical acclaim enjoyed by works such as Infinity Room or Accumulation No 1.

Many of these works are featured in the biographical film, Kusama Infinity, produced by Magnolia Pictures for publication in 2018.


The shocking and phallic nature of avant garde art can be said to belong first to Kusama. More than just genitalia on couches, the emotions of conflicting hate and love shine equally bright in Yayoi Kusama’s Accumulation No 1.

Duchamp, Big Wheel – Sculpture

With the production of the first of his Bicycle Wheel collection in 1913, the great designer Marcel Duchamp

may very well have been one of the earliest artists to achieve widespread fame and success in the world of modern art.


First unveiled in 1913, Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel was designed with the specific intent so common among the works of the great modern artists: to challenge what is really art.

While some people, including a narrator from one of Kurt Vonnegut’s stories, consider modern art to be little more than “meaningless pictures … entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid,” there is much more to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel than simply this.

Unfortunately, the 1913 original has been lost to time and dust, leaving us with only Duchamp’s third iteration of the sculpture, which he produced in 1951. This version appears to be a simple bicycle wheel attached to a stool.

Is This Even Art?

In many ways, that’s all it is, all it was, and all it ever will be, but does that mean that it is not art? This is the exact question that modern artists of the late 1800s to mid 1900s sought to impress into the minds of their viewers, making Duchamp successful if nothing else.

The question of what art truly is or can be is at the core of every modern art exhibit. From bicycle wheels fixed to steels to literal garbage cans full of paper, modern artists consistently challenge contemporary definitions of art.

If you’re looking for more of a story behind the art then this, you’re simply looking in the wrong place. The primary purpose of modern art is to unsettle, to dethrone the popular understanding of art, and send ripples through the cultural world.

In that case, if art exists to challenge conceptions and to cause people to think and come to a better understanding of their existence, then yes, this is art. But then again, the modern artist might ask, “Is that really the definition of art?”

The Readymades

Bicycle Wheel (1913) and all the subsequent editions of that design were part of what Duchamp referred to as his Readymades.

This collection featured many different works, all of which are bound by the common theme of comprising ordinary household objects modified in minor ways.

These designs were intended to challenge retinal art, another popular style of Duchamp’s days. I

More from the Readymades

While the Bicycle Wheel was the first, it was far from the last and perhaps not even the strangest of the Readymades.

The L.H.O.O.Q. was essentially a simple photo of the Mona Lisa with facial hair drawn on. The title was a phonetic play on words in the original French, the translation of which reads, “She has a hot ass.”


There are plenty more Readymades out there if you are looking to broaden your understanding of French modern art from the early-to-mid 1900s.Like the rest of us, begin first with the Bicycle Wheel series and then expand into the world of constant existential dread, not knowing if anything really means anything.

Laocoön and His Sons – Sculpture

The sculpture of Laocoön and his Sons depicts a most violent scene as Laocoön fights to save his sons from giant snakes, constricting their bodies and ripping at their flesh.

As one son breaks away from the snakes, he can be seen looking back, watching his father and brother be killed.

Sculpted Death

This marble sculpture bears the hallmarks of Ancient Roman design. The sculpture comprises seven marble segments brought together to form one eight-foot-tall hulking representation of the brutality of the Gods.

The sculpture was designed sometime between 42 and 20 BCE by a team of three sculpters: Hagesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus. Although it is believed that this is a Roman original, there exists evidence that it was merely a copy of an original Greek piece.

The key evidence for this claim is that all three of the sculptors to whom the credit is attributed were known copyists, specializing in Greek sculpting.

It is now on display in the Vatican Museum and has been since 2006.

The Vengeful Gods

The story behind Laocoön and his Sons comes from a portion of the Aeneid in which Laocoön attempts to warn the Trojan leaders of the deceit of the Greeks during the legendary siege; but, as he makes his way to meet with them, Athena takes the moment to strike.

Acting on behalf of the Greek forces, Athena sicced two mythical sea serpents, Porces and Chariboea, on Laocoön and his sons. The snakes dug their fangs into their flesh and crushed their bones via construction, although one of the boys (seen on the right) seems to be breaking away.

The Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum showcases a wide variety of art from Pagan cultures to polytheistic pantheons, most of which centered around the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, as these two cultures contributed significantly to the evolution of modern Christianity.

Among the other sculptures from antiquity on display in the Vatican is Apollo Belvedere. Apollo Belvedere depicts an idyllic male body, standard for Greek and Roman design, surveying the distance, a sense of pride and confidence exuding from his outstretched arm.

Apollo Belvedere was actually the first addition to the Vatican’s art displays, well before even the foundation of the Vatican Museums.

More from the Great Copyists

There is evidence supporting the theory, which is somewhat of a conspiracy theory, that Hagesander (a.k.a., Agesander) was actually a group of various people. While this, like the similar claim made for Shakespeare, holds no water, there may have been multiple relatives in Agesander’s family bearing the same name.

Agesander worked closely with the other two sculptors with whom he created Laocoön, producing such works as many of the sculptures discovered in Sperlonga, a few pieces on display in the Vatican Museums, as well as of course Laocoön and his Sons.


Conspiracies aside, there is one thing that most historians tend to agree upon in regard to Laocoön and his sons: that, together, Hagesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus created a masterpiece of baroque, Hellenistic artwork, whether they copied it or not.

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

It’s a familiar sensation for any human: the feeling of being stuck in thought, and failing to possess the faculties to move out of that motionless thought for the time being.

The familiarity of this feeling is what Auguste Rodin believed made his famed sculpture The Thinker a success. 

Making Thought Physical

Perhaps Rodin’s most famous art, The Thinker leaves nothing up to question. It’s clear that the sculpted bronze figure, originally crafted in 1880, is deep in thought by his body language and facial expression in addition to the title. 

Nude and hunched forward so his arms can rest on his knees, The Thinker places a folded hand under his jaw and furrows his brow. The uncertain position of the body is a stark contrast to the muscular form. 

The original version of The Thinker is smaller than the hulking monuments that likely come to mind when you think of the statue. That’s because The Thinker was originally part of a larger work called the Gates of Hell, set to frame the entry of a museum in the late 19th century. 

This particular component received so much attention that Rodin decided to capitalize on its success and make it an attraction of its own when it became clear that the museum would actually never open. Since then, many recreations of The Thinker have been made. Rodin created his first large Bronze version in 1904, which is often regarded as the true original version of the statue since the first incarnation was very small and connected to a series of other pieces. 

That bronze 1904 version can be seen at the Rodin Museum in Paris, where it graces the garden, and various other castings of The Thinker can be seen all over the world. 

From Poet to Ponderer

In its original framework, The Thinker was actually named The Poet. Given that it was part of an installation called The Gates of Hell, it’s apparent that Dante (poet of The Divine Comedy) was the inspiration for the piece. 

Among the other elements of the installation, The Poet sat in the center, apparently thinking back on his work. This adds a much darker context to the origins of the piece, as The Divine Comedy discusses in great detail the levels of Hell. 

Still, fans referred to the statue casually as The Thinker since that’s what the figure is actually doing—thinking. Eventually, Rodin gave into this perception and renamed the statue himself as The Thinker. Since it was meant to sit at the top of a doorway, The Thinker is usually placed on a pedestal to allow viewers to take in the statue from below. 

A Modern Take

Rodin is sometimes referred to as the Father of Modern Sculpture. This is due largely to the fact that although he sculpted in the style of Michelangelo, Rodin gave his figures passion, and movement. He didn’t confine them to the bounds of perfection, but instead gave them license to experience the full range of human emotion. 

Modernist Sculpture took on a life of its own following Rodin. Pablo Picasso, Antony Gormley, and Paul Gauguin are just some of the brilliant artists who followed in Rodin’s tradition. As time went on, sculpture certainly got more abstract that Rodin’s work, but he opened the door to new conventions with the form. 

The Thinker is certainly one of the world’s most famous sculptures, and its impact on the art world is still felt today.

David, Michelangelo

The term “Renaissance Man” is used to describe someone who is highly accomplished in more than one field, and Michelangelo was a Renaissance Man in every sense of the term.

Not only did he help give rise to the Italian Renaissance, he also became a true master of multiple artforms, but he is perhaps known best for his work sculpting David. 

A Hulking Likeness

Michelangelo’s David is carved from a single piece of marble, despite being 17 feet tall and weighing more than 12,000 pounds. It took 40 men the better part of a week to move the statue from Michelangelo’s studio to its original post, despite the distance spanning less than a mile. 

During the Renaissance period in which Michelangelo lived and worked, artists focused on making very realistic depictions of the human form, and David is a perfect example of this focus. Despite its height, the statue features relatively accurate proportions, and extremely close attention to details like the contour of muscle. 

The fact that the figure is nude was nothing scandalous in 1501 when the statue was commissioned (Michelangelo carved it in the 3 years that followed), but later periods that valued conservatism and modesty handled the nudity with varying degrees of grace; Queen Victoria had a fig leaf plastered over David’s more sensitive areas when a replica visited her namesake museum.

Though flawless in most ways, David’s eyes appear to have gotten away from Michelangelo, as they are pointing in different directions. This fact went largely unnoticed for centuries, until Stanford went about creating a full rendering with images. The statue’s hand is also unnaturally large, though this is thought to be a biblical reference made intentionally. 

Michelangelo was just 26 when he took on the job of creating this famous art work, and he chose a traditional pose called contrapposto. This means that the figure appears to have shifted his weight to one side, so his shoulders and head can twist off slightly. The pose allowed Michelangelo to give the statue a more dynamic appearance, but also helped convey the kind of emotions he intended for the piece to evoke. 

David’s pose suggests a quiet confidence, if perhaps accompanied by a bit of hesitation or uncertainty. In any case, it’s clear through the body language that David is experiencing a moment of thoughtful reflection prior to entering into one of The Bible’s most storied battles, where the odds were stacked heavily against him. 

While it was originally visible in an open Florentine piazza, it was moved in 1873 under the roof of the Accademia Gallery, also in Florence, where it remains today. 

The Original Underdog

The story of David and Goliath is so universal that it transcends the bounds of Christianity so inspire anyone with the odds stacked against them. In the biblical story, which takes place in the book of Samuel, Goliath is a champion of the Philistines who regularly challenges the Israelites to produce a champion worthy to fight him. 

David, a young shepherd without any knowledge of or experience in combat, agrees to take on Goliath. He refuses any armor, and takes only his sling with five rocks. When the two meet to battle, David lands one well-placed shot of a stone on Goliath’s forehead, and the giant falls. 

During that moment of vulnerability, David cuts of Goliath’s head, thus winning the battle. This is how David is ordinarily depicted: triumphant, in the heat of victory, holding the head of his slain opponent. Michelangelo, however, chose to move in a different direction with his sculpture. 

The famous marble likeness of David shows him in the moments before battle. Though he does not appear hesitant, or as if he regrets the decision to stand up for his people, he does appear to be feeling the enormity of what he has taken on. In these quiet moments of reflection, Michelangelo succeeded in humanizing one of The Bible’s most unlikely heroes. 

It is, perhaps, this sense of humanity that makes David one of the most famous statues in the world. It speaks to the idea that no matter how high a person rises, they are still human and prone to the same moments of doubt and reflection as everyone else. 

An Era of Masters

Michelangelo and his contemporaries are widely regarded as some of history’s most talented artists. The Italian Renaissance (sometimes broadly referred to as just the Renaissance period) was a period of rebirth for culture on whole. 

People were suddenly interested in gaining new insight, forming new perspectives, and increasing their understanding of the world, as well as man’s role in it. The most famous artists of the day, men like Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo were on the forefront of this new exploration. 

Artists began utilizing linear perspective so that their works were more accurate, and made concerted efforts to better depict light, detail, and the human form (particularly as it related to nature). This was also a great time to be an artist since wealthy merchants frequently commissioned work from especially skilled masters; investing in art was considered a worthy pursuit during this period. 

Though Michelangelo primarily fancied himself a sculptor, he made a famous foray into painting when he took on the allegorical depictions in the Sistine Chapel, a project that rivals David for his most famous. 

The Renaissance artists paved the way for the subsequent eras of creative expression by renewing public interest in culturally enriching pursuits. 

David is more than 500 years old, and may well be the world’s most famous sculpture. The stunning accuracy to scale and the striking humanity of the piece ensure that it will live forever in the hearts of art lovers.

Guernica, Pablo Picasso

Occasionally, a piece of art comes along that makes a more powerful statement than any number of words ever could.

That’s exactly the case with Pablo Picasso’s famous art work, Guernica. Painted in response to one of the most terrifying events to befall Picasso’s home country, Guernica gives a sense of the turmoil the painter was feeling. 

A Hectic Scene

A mural-sized painting, Guernica depicts a scene of general chaos and destruction. Painted in black and white, the image feel starker still by the lack of color when coupled with the disturbing content. 

On the edges of the composition, you can make out distinct figures. On the left, a woman appears to be holding the limp body of a child, rearing her head back in agony. Behind her, a bull appears shocked. On the right, another person throws their hands up with a similar expression, the bottom half of their body swallowed by some ambiguous darkness. Next to that figure, a woman peeks her head out of a window, holding a lamp. 

The center of this piece of art gets more chaotic still. An injured horse has apparently trampled a soldier holding a broken knife, and another limping figure approaches from the right. The entire piece is meant to echo the grainy narrative that the newspapers gave of the event which inspired the work. 

Guernica finally found a permanent home at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid in 1992, and it can still be visited there today. 

Political Commentary

In the 1930s, Spain had entered a Civil War. Hitler, who was the leader of Germany at the time, threw his support behind Spanish Nationalists in a very real way. Germany warplanes bombed the city of Guernica, often viewed as the Northernmost holdout of the resistance movement. 

They first flattened the buildings, as they wanted to ensure that a fire would burn easily through the city. Reporters who arrived on the scene concluded that the attack had been largely an attempt to terrorize civilians, as military posts did not appear to have been targeted. 

Picasso, disgusted by the blatant disrespect for human life, went to work on a piece of art titled for the targeted city. It was clear that innocent civilians had been targeted in the attack, and Picasso made that especially easy to discern with his depiction of a woman holding a child’s body in her arms. 

When the piece debuted at the World’s Fair, Guernica caused a great deal of commotion. It forced viewers to confront some ugly truths of about the realities of war, and is still today viewed as a piece of anti-war sentiment. Guernica traveled the world, spending many years in New York, before it finally made its way to Picasso’s homeland of Spain. 

Though the intention behind the work was obviously to draw attention in some way to the atrocities occurring during the Spanish Civil War, Guernica’s relevance has transcended any single conflict to represent a greater, peace-promoting message. 

In His Own League

Picasso, like many great artists of all types, went through different phases in his career. At different times, he could be classified as a Cubist, a Neoclassicist, and a Surrealist. 

In any case, Picasso always maintained his own distinct style. While you can see parallels between the abstraction in works of artists like fellow Surrealist Salvador Dali and Picasso, there is no mistaking Picasso’s work for anyone else’s, and certainly no chance of fitting it squarely in a single box. 

Guernica is one of Picasso’s most famous pieces because it is one of his most impactful, and his passion can be felt clearly through the piece.