On 28 April 1937, The Times (London) published George Steer’s report, The Tragedy of Guernica. Picasso read similar reports published in French newspapers, dropped the project he was working on and began sketching for a new painting which would become Guernica. The painting was finished in June 1937 and was displayed in the pavilion of the Spanish Republic in Paris.
A full-size tapestry-copy of Guernica hangs at the entrance of the United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting room. According to Maggie Farley, the staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, on 5 February 2003, as the US Secretary of State Colin Powell ‘came out of the meeting for a press conference, after presenting evidence to help UN to decide whether or not to go to war in Iraq’, the journalists noticed that the tapestry hanging behind his back had been covered by a blue curtain (Farley 2003: 1).
Why did Powell find the presence of the painting unsettling? By covering it, was he acknowledging its power? How does a painting like Guernica acquire that power? Does it reside in the truth it represents, or does it originate from the intense emotions we experience looking at it?
In my essay I compare Picasso’s Guernica with Steer’s newspaper report. I also bring into focus Gernika, a poem written by the Basque poet Telesforo Monzon about the same event. Does the poem possess the same power? What kind of emotional experience does the poem offer to its readers? In what way does that experience differ from the one that Picasso’s Guernica or Steer’s newspaper report provides?
Keywords: Picasso; George Steer; Guernica; knowledge; experiential knowledge