A large audience of Cranleighans trooped into the ALT on Thursday evening, not at all sure what to expect. Many had never heard of “Guernica” (all had heard of Picasso!) but none was prepared for what followed. Using a Kodak carousel projector and old-fashioned transparencies (of extraordinary quality), leaning on a lectern held up with an elastic bungee, the eternally youthful Professor Slinn held his audience in the palm of his hand for the better part of an hour. He began by pointing out, in the words of Churchill’s portraitist Graham Sutherland, that “Guernica” was the painting of the 20th Century.
Describing the painting, Professor Slinn began to investigate the significance of each element and to show, very clearly, how much work, revision after revision, had gone into the masterpiece. The painting is huge, it was the largest that Picasso could possibly have fitted into his studio, and he used simple white and black house paints, mixing the various shades of grey he required as he went along. There are no colours (colours are comforting), it is no accident that Spielberg’s “Shindler’s List” is also without colour, and there are no voluptuous curves: this is a protest painting.
When the picture was finished it was displayed in the small Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Exposition. This building was symbolically sandwiched between the enormous Russian and German contributions, but it was the painting that drew the crowds. Picasso did not sign it neither did he date it (it is timeless), and the style he developed for this image was one he developed for the painting and never used again: it is unique.
Since then “Guernica” has toured the world and, once Picasso had died in1973, attempts were made by the Americans to keep it in California, but, once General Franco died in1975, it was taken back to Madrid in 1981,where it hangs to this day.
Those who had attended this splendid talk with reluctance left afterwards knowing they had experienced something special and, in the vast majority of cases, heartily glad they had made the effort.
Dr Christopher Mann