Cubisim was the first style of abstract art which evolved at the beginning of the 20th century in response to a world that was changing with unprecedented speed. During this period inventions such as photography, cinematography, sound recording, the telephone, the motor car and the airplane heralded the dawn of a new age.
Photography had begun to replace painting as the tool for documenting the age and for artists to sit illustrating cars, planes and images of the new technologies was not exactly rising to the challenge. They challenged conventional forms of representation, such as perspective, which had been the rule since the Renaissance. Artists needed a more radical approach - a 'new way of seeing' that expanded the possibilities of art in the same way that technology was extending the boundaries of communication and travel.
The early phase which lasted until about 1912 was called Analytical Cubism. Here the artist analysed the subject from many different viewpoints and reconstructed it within a geometric framework, the overall effect of which was to create an image that evoked a sense of the subject. These fragmented images were unified by the use of a subdued and limited palette of colours. Synthetic Cubism moved away from the unified monochrome surfaces of Analytic Cubism to a more direct, colourful and decorative style. Although synthetic cubist images appear more abstract in their use of simplified forms, the other elements of their composition are applied quite traditionally. Interchanging lines, colours, patterns and textures, that switch from geometric to freehand, dark to light, positive to negative and plain to patterned, advance and recede in rhythms across the picture plain.
Cubism emerged as Futurism in Italy, Vorticism in England, Suprematism and Constructivism in Russia, and Expressionism in Germany.
The fact that a picture drawn in perspective could only work from one viewpoint restricted their options. As the image was drawn from a fixed position, the result was frozen, like a snapshot - but the Cubists wanted to make pictures that reached beyond the rigid geometry of perspective. They wanted to introduce the idea of 'relativity' - how the artist perceived and selected elements from the subject, fusing both their observations and memories into the one concentrated image. To do this the Cubists examined the way that we see.
They were not interested in the true religious or social symbolism of these cultural objects. The Cubists proposed that your sight of an object is the sum of many different views and your memory of an object is not constructed from one angle, as in perspective, but from many angles selected by your sight and movement. The whole idea of space is reconfigured: the front, back and sides of the subject become interchangeable elements in the design of the work. Cubist painting, paradoxically abstract in form, was an attempt at a more realistic way of seeing.
The official theme of the Paris Exposition is a celebration of modern technology. Organizers hope this vision of a bright future will jolt the nations out of the economic depression and social unrest of the thirties. As plans unfold, much excitement is generated by the Aeronautics Pavilion, featuring the latest advances in aircraft design and engineering. Who would suspect that this dramatic progress would bring about such dire consequences?
The painting was created in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain by German and Italian war-planes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.
The horse's screaming dagger-shaped tongue and its death-head nostrils focus our attention directly on the terrible pain and suffering that pulls us repeatedly back to witness the horror. If this is a bullfight it has gone horribly wrong, defying all logic of the corrida. No horse is ever run straight through with a spear in a plaza de toros, as the horse of Guernica has been. In an early version, hidden under layers of paint, Picasso had bent the horse's head down to the ground in submissive defeat.
It may be the last gasp but down to the right of its crooked knee a plant sprouts a few anaemic leaves as the only symbol of hope. Did the horse represent the Spanish people, Picasso was asked? He refused to answer. Throughout the history of painting the horse has become the universal symbol of man's companion in war, understood by every culture. Guernica was a horrific example of saturation bombing - not the first, nor the last. From Coventry to Dresden, from Hiroshima to Baghdad, people have forged a powerful empathy with this fatally wounded horse.
This is the largest Harlequin, which is cleverly hidden behind the surface imagery.
The outline of the face can be seen in the lines and background tones of the composition, the eyes and the tuft of hair to the right of the face are clearly visible.
The Harlequin appears to be crying a diamond tear for the victims of the bombing. The diamond is one of the Harlequin's symbols and in Picasso's work it is a personal signature.
Painters often rotate or invert paintings to check balance and stability in the composition.
Picasso knew from this and from his Cubist experiments that sideways or inverted imagery could have a powerful subliminal effect on the viewer and give a work hidden meanings and magical secrecy.
The next Harlequin is easily recognisable as the painting is rotated 90 degrees to the right.
From this viewpoint, Harlequin's hat becomes obvious as the figure appears to look upwards at the sky as if in reference to the bombing.
This is another Harlequin, seen by rotating the painting 90 degrees to the left.
The outline of the face and traditional hat and mask make him identifiable. Picasso hid many magical images in his work by incorporating them sideways or upside down. Sometimes, as in this case, he placed other images over the top as camouflage.
This fourth Harlequin has been concealed by inversion, which is a common technique of encryption in Hermetic magic.
This Harlequin is identifiable by his triangular hat and serrated collar. He is constructed from components of Punch and Judy theatre. The hat is peaked with a crocodile's jaw and his square mouth and face when viewed the right way up takes on the form of a traditional puppeteer's theatre.
The Crocodile and the Harlequin are common characters in Punch and Judy shows, their inclusion in Guernica stems from Picasso's love of puppetry which began before the turn of the century in Barcelona where he saw many such shows and even helped produce them with Pere Romeu at Els Quatre Ghats . The figure falling across the Harlequin's face which is often assumed to be a woman, in fact bears a strong resemblance to Picasso, who appears to be identifying with the victims of the bombing.
The next Harlequin image is again inverted and can be seen to the right of the previous Harlequin.
He is identifiable from his patchwork costume and triangular hat and appears to be kneeling on the ground as if watching the puppet show taking place opposite.
The skull is shown sideways and has been ingeniously overlaid onto the body of the horse, which is also a death symbol. The skull's mechanical appearance seems appropriate to the modern weaponry used in the 1937 bombing. Picasso often hid one or more related symbols within a particular image as seen here.
Below the dying horse in the centre of the painting is a concealed bull's head contained in the outline of the horse's buckled front leg.
"One of the functions of Ritveld's chairs, with their hard seats and backs, is to focus our senses, to make us feel alert and aware. Rietveld was not interested in conventional ideas of comfort (the 19th century armchair that relaxes you so much that you spill your coffee or fall asleep over your book.) He wished to keep the sitter physically and mentally 'toned up'."