Inevitably the conservative groups who had seen their power base slip away in 1931 were going to fight back - the Catholic Church, the pro-German Fascist Party, the nobility and especially the Army. In July 1936, the most bloody of Civil Wars broke out in Spain, under General Franco.
Art and politics came together in one of the most complex relationships in the history of art. So says the book Art and The Civil War from the Museu Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia Madrid, edited by Juan Jose Lahuerta and published by Ediciones de La Central in 2009. In painting, sculpture, photography and film, these artists denounced the indiscriminate massacre of the civilian population and the destruction of Spanish cities. They celebrated the courage of ordinary men and women fighting behind the barricades; and they bore witness to the bravery of the Republican side and the murderous brutality of the Fascists.
Aidez Espagne, 1937
32 x 49 cm
Joan Miro was very direct, simple and passionate about publicising the Republican cause. He designed a colourful print in 1937 to raise money for the Republicans, showing a Catalan peasant raising a thick, defiant fist and the slogan Help Spain. This print in turn created a poster sold at the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris. Visitors could purchase it after viewing Picasso’s Guernica and Miro’s own monumental mural, The Reaper (now lost).
Artists Antonio Rodriguez Luna and Horacio Ferrer were politically and artistically engaged in the Civil War from the Republican ranks. Alberto Sanchez was a Spanish sculptor who turned his creativity to the victims of this war. Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz in Paris became one of a number of foreign artists who became involved in Spain's struggle, producing works in solidarity with Spain's ordinary working families. Hungarian photographer Robert Capa travelled around Spain during 1936-9, taking stunning photos from behind Republican lines.
The biggest surprise for me was from the French architect, Le Corbusier. He anguished over the bombs being dropped on Spanish families and produced some wonderful paintings and drawings called The Fall of Barcelona. He was devastated when his town planning project for Barcelona was cancelled because of the war, and even more devastated when his close friends died during the war.
Another source of information was the International Exposition Dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life, in Paris in 1937. The pavilion of the Spanish Republic was very telling. It was designed by Joan Miro, along with important contributions by Alexander Calder, Julio Gonzales and Pablo Picasso. The Republican government used Paris' World Fair to mount concerts, theatrical performances and dancing groups as symbols of popular Spanish culture and as a propaganda weapon against Fascism. They displayed traditional Spanish ceramics and textiles, and above all, they hung the famous anti-war work by Picasso, Guernica.
Pablo Picasso, Guernica
1937, 349 x 776 cm
Museum Reina Sofia, Madrid
Pablo Picasso's famous painting revealed the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. He created this huge image in protest against the aerial bombing and the catastrophic slaughter of civilians in Guernica in 1937 by German bombers. Picasso used symbols and images of broken people, with most of the faces looking up to the sky from where the bombs fell.
In a world where almost every country remained neutral on the Spanish question, propaganda opportunities were to be firmly grabbed by the struggling Republicans. (The Russians and Mexicans supported the Republican government; the German and Italian fascists sent equipment and money to the Spanish Fascists). "Espagne 1936" was a film that was screened in the Spanish Pavilion during this World Fair. The battle cry of the Republic, "They shall not pass. Madrid will be the grave of fascism" was clear from the film. Wrong! Fascism survived brilliantly; Spanish mothers and children were slaughtered by Fascist soldiers.
Could some painters, sculptors and photo journalists have been on General Franco's side in the war? Salvador Dali, for example, was known not to have liked the Republicans. So yes, there may well have been some artists whose works are not represented at Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum, in their permanent exhibition on the Civil war. But perhaps not. The artists wrote at the time that "it is our hope that all art produced in the revolution, and passionately in agreement with the revolution, would respond ideologically to the human content of this revolution" (July 1937, International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture in Valencia).
courtyard of Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid
opened in 1988