Picasso's 'Guernica' triggers row between Spain, Basque
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Picasso's 'Guernica' triggers row between Spain, Basque

decade old Basque conflict, a dispute has erupted between the Spanish and Basque authorities

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 14:08 IST

At a time when Spain is hoping to launch a peace process to solve the four-decade old Basque conflict, a dispute has erupted between the Spanish and Basque authorities over Pablo Picasso's "Guernica", his most famous painting, which the Basques regard as a national symbol.

The Basque regional government has asked to borrow the masterpiece from Madrid for an exhibition in Bilbao to mark the 70th anniversary next year of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by Nazi Germany in support of General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

     "Guernica" in muddle!

The Spanish government, however, said the "Guernica" is too damaged to make another trip, having travelled to dozens of exhibitions, since Picasso created it for the 1937 Paris World Fair.

The Basques, who already had sought in vain to borrow the painting for the inauguration of Bilbao's Guggenheim art museum a decade ago, suspect its fragility is partly an excuse to make sure its presence will not boost Basque nationalist feelings.

Modern transport conditions guarantee that the canvas will not deteriorate, Basque government spokeswoman Miren Azkarate said, but Culture Minister Carmen Calvo vowed the "Guernica" will "not leave the Reina Sofia" modern art museum, which houses it.

Officially, the "Guernica" affair has nothing to do with hopes of ending the Basque conflict following a recent ceasefire declaration by the separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which has killed more than 800 people in its campaign for a sovereign Basque state since 1968.

Yet in practice, Picasso's painting cannot be separated entirely from politics, because Guernica of less than 20,000 residents is the spiritual capital of the Basques, where representatives of Spanish kings used to swear to respect Basque autonomy.

On April 26, 1937, the German Condor Legion levelled Guernica, killing about 1,500 civilians in an act that caused international outrage and inspired Picasso to paint his black-and-white cubist "cry for peace and freedom", as Azkarate described it.

Measuring 7.76 x 3.49 m, the canvas depicting suffering people and animals in the midst of war and chaos can also be interpreted as symbolising Basque resistance to the 1939-75 Franco dictatorship, which oppressed Basque language and culture.

The Spanish government's opposition to moving the painting "fits in badly with the times and roads of peace and freedom we want to take", Azkarate said in an apparent reference to the ETA ceasefire.

Picasso did not want the "Guernica" to return to Spain as long as Franco ruled, and the work only came home in 1981 from New York's Museum of Modern Art.

First Published: Apr 26, 2006 14:08 IST