The truth about Guernica: Picasso and the lying press

March 9, 2012

Picasso, Figure of a Woman Inspired by the Spanish Civil War, 19 January, 1937.

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth” —Pablo Picasso

What inspired Picasso to paint his Guernica? It was not just the bombing of the Basque town on April 26, 1937. In fact, to properly understand the circumstances that gave rise to the creation of Picasso’s contribution to the 1937 World Fair, it is necessary to consider the full historical background, beginning with a series of events that influenced Picasso’s earliest artistic reactions to the Spanish Civil War in late 1936 and early 1937. (1) The great cultural tradition that links Picasso with artists like Goya has always been, and rightly so, the High Road towards the masterpiece. But, as we will see, exploring the Low Road of newspapers, pamphlets and street posters, government reports and conspiracy theories–teasing out information from exactly contemporaneous sources–can also provide surprisingly rich pickings. In what follows I will attempt to reconstruct a street view of Picasso the newspaper reader—the worried and indignant Spaniard in France—over an extended period between December 1936 and April 1937.

I will base my discussion on a close reading of French newspapers and weeklies, looking at the ways in which press influence can be traced in Picasso’s print Dream and Lie of Franco (an eighteen-scene narrative in etching and aquatint, sold as prints to raise funds for the Republic) and the Guernica itself. But let me begin with a strange drama, finely poised between tragedy and farce, that strongly affected French reactions to the Spanish Civil War. On December 8, 1936 the French embassy plane in Spain, a converted Potez 54 bomber plane, was intercepted and brought down by unknown attackers about 60 miles northeast of Madrid. Just one person died in that attack: the French journalist Louis Delaprée, who was returning to France to have it out with his newspaper editors, after they had censored and suppressed his reports denouncing the pro-Francoist aerial bombardments of Madrid. In previous pieces for the Volunteer (see here and here) I studied this case essentially from the left-wing perspective of Picasso’s circle of friends and the campaign spearheaded by the French Communist newspaper L’Humanité, arguing that this intriguing “Spanish” news of aerial bombardments, censorship and lies caught the attention of Pablo Picasso, who had not previously manifested any interest in the war as an artistic subject. (2)

But any confrontation has two sides. In this companion piece, I will retrace my steps through late 1936 and early 1937 to view the picture from a different angle, taking into account the conservative and right-wing reactions of those who were unsympathetic to the Spanish Republic. They were concerned with a quite different issue, namely the murky circumstances surrounding the downing of the embassy plane. There were persistent rumors that this was really a Soviet-style operation to cover up the previous month’s Republican killings near Madrid. (3) Despite the many uncertainties surrounding this case, there have been few “ifs” and “buts” in the literature on it, created mainly beyond the confines of historical scholarship. In cyberspace, in fact, the conjectures of the 1930s have by now hardened into dark certainties. If one looks up Paracuellos massacre (now the generic term for the Republican killings) in Wikipedia, for instance, an account of the attack on the embassy plane emerges as a key episode. Appearing under the heading “Henny’s attempted murder”, it is presented as though the whole affair were a closed case. (Dr. Henny was one of the plane’s passengers, as I discuss below.) (4) In this version of events, the clinching argument would be that the French government investigated the affair and blamed the Republicans, yet somehow failed to publish their findings. (5)

Le Charivari, 8-9 January 1937. (Martin Minchom)

As always, however, reality is more complicated. Last year, I located the official French files on this attack. Contrary to the more sinister hypotheses, these files had actually been sitting quietly undisturbed in the diplomatic archives in Nantes, simply waiting to be consulted. (6) To be sure, some of this material had initially been classified secret, exactly as we would expect; but after several decades it was declassified under equally standard procedures. In other words, there was no official French cover-up. What to the files show? While they suggest that French diplomacy harbored genuine suspicions about Republican involvement in the attack, they signally–and from the French point of view, frustratingly–failed to uncover much hard evidence. As a diplomatic incident, the case lays bare the fault lines in the fractious relationship between France and the Spanish Republic, while it is also instructive about internal tensions within France over the Spanish Civil War. French diplomacy and left-wing forces were uneasy bedfellows, although both were nominally loyal to the Popular Front-led government. Indeed, far from withholding papers to protect the Spanish government, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs may even have gone public to counteract French Communist agitation.

Along with its Spanish background, the Delaprée case had other features to intrigue Picasso. Quite recently, I located a full-page cartoon about the attack that was used as the cover illustration for Le Charivari, an extreme right-wing satirical weekly, for its issue of January 8, 1937. (7) A few days later Picasso produced a painting, linked to his own Dream and Lie of Franco, that bears several unmistakable similarities to this particular right-wing caricature. Artistically, the Charivari sketch was no doubt crude and unworthy of Picasso’s attention–but it did represent the same forces with which the artist engaged so memorably in the Guernica.

A series of artistic reactions by Picasso show that he was repeatedly affected by aerial bombardments of civilian targets, and appalled at the silence of the mainly conservative French press on this issue. (8) Picasso was a regular reader of L’Humanité, which launched a vigorous campaign against “the lying press, the murderous press” in 1936 and 1937. (9) While L’Humanité certainly practised its own manipulations, I believe that this campaign shaped the context in which Picasso interpreted the distorted, incomplete and often distressing news from Spain. Picasso explicitly named the ‘lie’ in his title for Dream and Lie of Franco, and drew a clenched fist on a copy of Paris-Soir that ignored the bombing of Madrid. I will argue here that there are similar echoes in the Guernica itself.

One anecdote, possibly apocryphal, has it that when news of the bombing of Gernika reached Paris in April 1937 the subject was proposed to Picasso, who replied that he didn’t even know what a bombed town looked like. (10) If this response was true, it was certainly disingenuous. Nevertheless, Picasso does seem to have felt that an artist had the special power to counter deceit, by using the inversions and apparent deceptions of artistic creation to cut through all the lies propagated in the public sphere. In 1935, Picasso spoke of a dictatorship of painters, or of a painter, “to suppress all those who tricked us, to suppress the cheaters, to suppress the objects of trickery, to suppress customs, to suppress charms, to suppress history, to suppress a heap of still more things.” (11). Artistic truth, he seems to suggest, will be terrible rather than reassuring, opening our eyes but stripping away our illusions.

The wreckage of the French Embassy plane. (L. Delaprée, Morir en Madrid, 2009 / Lincoln-Delaprée collection.)

The Downing of the Potez 54 and its Strange Aftermath

I am especially interested in clarifying French reactions to the Potez 54 / Delaprée affair between 29 December 1936 and mid-January 1937, when Picasso was involved. But first I’ll look at the attack itself. Thirty years ago, the leading hispanist Ian Gibson suggested that if the official French files on this case were ever found, they might shed some interesting light. (12) Now that I have located them, however, I can only say that they raise as many questions as they answer.

During the Spanish Civil War, the French embassy in Madrid used a converted Potez 54 bomber plane to carry official correspondence, and sometimes passengers, between Spain and France. That plane was due to leave Barajas airport in Madrid on December 6, 1936. But it was delayed twice due to technical problems, and finally left for Toulouse, France, at 12.20 on December 8th. In addition to its captain and radio operator, it carried two French journalists, Louis Delaprée of the daily newspaper Paris-Soir and André Château of the Havas news agency. The French embassy gave three non-French passengers permission to travel, namely two Spanish girls and Dr. Henny, the Swiss envoy of the International Red Cross. The plane had not been in the air for long when, near Alcalá de Henares, it was approached by a monoplane. According to  the captain of the embassy plane, Charles Boyer, the co-pilot had plenty of time to look it over. Some time later, when the Potez 54 had reached the Guadalajara region, it was attacked by a second aircraft, a biplane, at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. (13) Thanks to its pilot’s cool head it managed to make a bumpy crash landing in a field near the village of Pastrana. Dr. Henny was taken quickly to the Palace Hotel in Madrid, and after a delay, the other passengers were also taken to Madrid. One of them, the journalist Louis Delaprée died at 2:00 in the morning on December 11th.

Press reporting on the incident was initially confused. Contradictory information was spread, for example, with regard to the number of attacking planes. It  was also often asserted incorrectly that an Air France plane had been brought down. Early on, it was generally assumed that pro-Francoist planes were responsible for the attack, and right-wing sources asked why the French embassy had been using a converted bomber plane that could so easily be confused with a military aircraft.

Louis Delaprée: the photo that was used on street posters on 31 December 1936. (Bibliothèque nationale de France.)

Suspicions quickly surfaced, however, that the attack had been specifically aimed at Dr. Henny because he had knowledge, and possibly documents, about the Paracuellos killings–the mass execution by Republicans of pro-Franco prisoners, which had taken place in November and early December–that he was taking to France and then on to Geneva. The arrival of this news in Geneva would have immediately preceded the Spanish State minister’s address to the League of Nations. (14) As early as December 9th, the day after the attack, Emmanuel Neuville, the French consul in Madrid, voiced his suspicions that the aim of the plane attack had been to stop Henny reporting the atrocities. (15) Dr. Henny reported back to the Red Cross in Geneva that he also thought he might have been the target. (16) An otherwise skeptical passenger, the injured journalist André Château, acknowledged that if the attack had been aimed at anyone, this would have been Henny. Neither Delaprée nor himself had any information that would have marked them out, he said, whereas Henny was potentially an “awkward witness”. (17)

All the same, Dr. Henny was not the only possible object of the attack, and Delaprée’s name also came up later, in other speculations, although less frequently. For example, it was claimed in 1938 that Louis Delaprée was carrying some information so vital that the “reds” wanted to intercept it at any cost. (18) Delaprée himself seems to have believed his life was threatened, and his papers may have been tampered with after the attack. (19)

There are many colorful details to this case, far more than I can do justice to here. At the height of the Cold War, in 1961 the Daily Express journalist Sefton Delmer wrote a widely cited account, strewn with inaccuracies, that blamed Orlov’s Soviet agents. (20) In 1987, half a century after the event, a local resident Dr. Cortijo spoke of handing over two bags found near the wreckage to trustworthy French embassy officials. (21) In fact the diplomatic bag (which was indeed made up of two separate bags) does show up in the official inventory. (22) But according to legend, these bags were packed with compromising photos and documents on Paracuellos, while there is no such indication in the consular documentation. Finally, long after the event two Soviet pilots were described as have admitted to shooting down the aircraft, but without realizing that it was an embassy plane. (23)

Emmanuel Neuville, the French consul in Madrid, was in charge of investigations in situ and from the outset suspicions focused on a Frenchman, Robert Marcelin. Not much seems to have been known about Marcelin’s background, and he was not specifically identified as a Soviet agent, unless the description of him as a “member of the Cheka” was hinting at this. (The chekas were non-official people’s tribunals and make-shift prisons that administered very rough justice.) Marcelin certainly talked up his role because he was claimed to have boasted to foreign journalists that he was head of espionnage under the Madrid junta. (24) Marcelin’s connections make him a plausible suspect for the plane attack as the junta was set up after the Republican government had left Madrid for Valencia, and the Paracuellos killings were on its watch.

French diplomacy suspected Marcelin of practically every single unsolved crime involving foreigners in the Republican zone. However, by spreading the net so very wide, they also revealed how little hard evidence they really had. The French were particularly interested in tracking down one person at Barajas airport to whom Marcelin was alleged to have said, on the eve of the attack, that one of those leaving would never arrive. (25) This reported statement circulated widely, and was interpreted as a threat to attack the plane. But surely–if true–this was said earlier than reported, and meant that a passenger (Henny? Delaprée?) would meet a sticky end in a dark Madrid side-street. Marcelin was referring to one person, not seven; and how do you pick out a single victim at 10,000 feet?

The French embassy was given a report from the Madrid Junta on December 9, 1936 showing that Robert Marcelin and Florentino Ruiz had been the agents in charge of the initial investigation. (26) Embassy officials found this highly suspicious, and Marcelin’s name was underlined in red pencil on the document and highlighted by a red exclamation mark. Marcelin’s name subsequently disappeared from junta documentation, which only reinforced French suspicions.

Picasso's sketch of a hand holding a hammer/sickle, on a copy of Paris-Soir.

The Marcelin connection was the closest the French investigation ever got to a genuine lead, but plenty of details reveal an atmosphere of tension and distrust. On the day of the attack itself, Emmanuel Neuville’s suspicions were raised by the pilot’s reluctance to say over the phone who he thought was responsible. (27) On December 11, concern was expressed for the safety of the pilot and radio operator, who were discreetly taken out of Spain. (28) The French apparently even  managed the logistical feat of having the plane itself moved to safe hiding. Otherwise, the French had little to go on, and their work focused almost entirely on the identification of the attacking planes. (29)

When the French government sent a letter of protest to the Republican government on December 28, it basically had to rely on this type of evidence. However, a photo of the wreckage of the plane (preserved by Mme. Catherine Lincoln-Delaprée) shows that the issue of identification was not clear-cut. The plane’s numbering F-A000 is clearly visible on the photo. However, the tail displays a single letter (F), which was characteristic of Malraux’s air squadron, and displays neither the tricolor nor the official letters RF. (30) As the embassy plane had previously been a military aircraft, in process of transformation for civilian use, the possibility of an erroneous identification was greater than usually imagined. The plane, in other words, looked like a Republican military aircraft. This reopens the possibility of an attack in error by pro-Francoist aviation.

The French went on investigating after they had sent their letter of protest on December 28, but if anything they found themselves going backwards. On January 5 1937, the injured journalist André Château was repatriated to France and hospitalized in Bordeaux, where his testimony failed to back up the Republican government’s conclusions. He had the “impression” that the Potez 54 has been attacked by a government plane, but he was not sure. He was not convinced about the identification because Franco’s planes had red and yellow markings, and the yellow was less visible. He did have doubts about whether Franco’s plane would have gone so near to Alcalá de Henares, where there was a military airport. He reckoned the attack might have been perpetrated by mistake by a government plane. The attacking plane did have time to look, but maybe the markings were not clear enough to allow for identification. (31) (The archives of the Havas news agency show that the unfortunate Château’s return to France was not to be a happy one, and he stoically had his right leg amputated in April 1937. (32))

By mid-January, the French consul Neuville reported that his investigation was stalling: he had not got new proofs which could be considered conclusive. “At best,” he said, he could point to the type and coloring of the wings of the attacking plane, as indicated by the pilot and radio operator. (33) However, he also expressed renewed suspicions of Marcelin. On January 29, 1937, a request was made for a bullet found after the attack to be examined more closely. On March 19, 1937, the consul in Madrid Emmanuel Neuville warned the consulate in Alicante that the Frenchman Robert Marcelin, described as the head of espionnage for the Madrid junta, was going there. (34) But basically, the official investigation was fizzling out.

And the mystery? My two cents goes on the mundane possibility that the embassy airplane was attacked in error, perhaps by pro-Francoist planes, perhaps by Republican planes. As for a planned Soviet attack, at this time Soviet foreign policy was still based on making a common front with France and Britain against Nazism; and Stalin would not have felt that shooting down French planes was the best way to go about it. Much the same argument would apply to the Republican government. But that does not rule out a more improvised local action. Local agents could–say–have messed up a dirty tricks operation in Madrid, and then panicked, providing (dis)information to pro-Republican aviation. But this conjecture is highly speculative. My guess is that only Soviet documentation, if it exists, could prove conclusively that there was a planned attack; and if Soviet agents had indeed done their worst, they might well not have written to Stalin to boast about it.

A sketch of 19 April 1937, showing the raised arm, clenched fist and hammer and sickle.

However, we can certainly dismiss the hypothesis of a French cover-up. The notion of official connivance between two brotherly Popular Front governments was never plausible given what we know about the troubled course of French-Spanish relations and the ambivalent attitude of the French State Office, the Quai d’Orsay. (35) In many ways, French diplomacy in Spain operated in a similar way to Britain’s. Both countries had absentee ambassadors on the frontier, who were bitterly hostile to the Republic, while their consular officials, like Emmanuel Neuville (and in the British case Ogilvie-Forbes), discharged their duties honorably in Madrid. (36) Embassy officials who were too sympathetic to the Republicans, like the French military attaché Henri Morel, found themselves in trouble. (37) On my reading, the French government had reasonable suspicions, but very little hard evidence, when it issued its findings attributing the attack to pro-Republication aviation.

The findings of the State Office were made public on December 31, 1936. At this point the two strands in the affair–the attack on the plane and the censorship of Louis Delaprée’s writings–converge. As a commentator observed at the time: “… the curiously ironical outcome of the incident [i.e. the attack on the plane, MM] was this: on the very day on which the walls of Paris were adorned with manifestos of protest by Left journalists, the Quai d’Orsay itself made an official statement to the effect that the ambassadorial plane had been shot down by the government forces. Apparently M. Blum’s liaison arrangements with the Left journalists were somewhat defective.” (38)

It must have been very soon after the attack that the Republicans and their supporters realized that Delaprée’s writing might have great propaganda value. While Delaprée was still being dismissed as a sensationalist jet-setter for the far-right press in a Spanish newspaper on December 9th, for example, a mere two days later the same newspaper suddenly started calling him a “genuine liberal”. (39) Something was clearly going on behind the scenes. In December, circles close to the Communist newspaper L’Humanité managed to get hold of the full copies of Louis Delaprée dispatches denouncing the pro-Francoist aerial bombardments of Madrid in November 1936. These had originally being filed with the Republican Censorship Office in Madrid, and were probably taken to Paris by L’Humanité’s correspondent, Georges Soria. Delaprée’s reports had mainly been rejected by his own newspaper, but soon they would be brought out in pamphlet form in no less than five languages, as part of a major propaganda initiative. (40)

The victims from a bombed church in Durango. (L’Humanité, 6 April 1937, and Durango, Ville Martyre, 30 April 1937.)

At the end of December, however, things were being warmed up with the launching of street posters (visible in a scene shown here in L’Humanité of 1 January 1937), in which Delaprée’s wan and melancholy face looks out at us alongside the words: “The voice of a dead man denounces the lies of the press.” Picasso’s biographer Sir John Richardson has drawn attention to the painter’s very first reference to the Spanish Civil War in Still Life with a Lamp on December 29, 1936, which included a severed arm (as in the Guernica), and a poster on the wall with the date. This was when the Delaprée poster was being printed, allowing us to infer that Picasso must have seen it before it came out. Perhaps the whole purpose of the campaign had been to get the world’s most famous artist to be more fully engaged with Republican Spain. If so, it was brilliantly successful.

In perfect synchronicity, the Right highlighted the attack on the plane at the same time as L’Humanité focused on Delaprée’s death and censored writings. L’Action Française of January 1, 1937 reported the French Government’s findings that Louis Delaprée had in fact been “murdered” by the Spanish Popular Front. There were also the first right-wing hints that the French writer André Malraux might somehow be mixed up in all this (which later turned into an aggressive, denunciatory campaign by the fascist writer Robert Brasillach (41)). L’Humanité did not buy into the idea that the timing of the announcement was a mere coincidence, alleging on January 2, 1937 that there was complicity between Paris-Soir and officials at the Quai D’Orsay. (42) On January 3, 1937 the French Communist newspaper L’Humanité made its own counter-accusation blaming Italian aviation.

The duelling resumed one week later, on Friday, January 8, 1937. That day, Louis Delaprée’s writings on the bombardments of Madrid were published as a pamphlet called The Martyrdom of Madrid. (On Saturday–see hereL’Humanité showcased it under the heading Shame on the Lying Press!) Friday was also the day of the week that many weeklies were brought out, albeit with Saturday’s dateline, so that they could reach people before the weekend. One right-wing weekly that came out that day was particularly significant because, as I will show in a moment, Picasso saw it and reacted to it.

It is worth noting the extraordinary violence of the language that marked this controversy. L’Humanité placed a caption beneath the photo of the street scene on January 1, 1937, making an allusion to the “press which kills and lies.” Strong stuff. These words were linked to L’Humanité’s ongoing campaign against the far Right press which it blamed, probably correctly, for having hounding a government minister called Roger Salengro to his suicide. On November 18, 1936, L’Humanité had brought out a special edition on Salengro’s death, specifically denouncing calumnies spread by the “murderous press.” As part of this campaign, L’Humanité’s director Paul Vaillant-Couturier wrote a pamphlet with a title that used similar language: “The lying press, the murderous press.” (43)

A 1930s press campaign was the very opposite of an ordered process of political debate; and in this one, both sides were accusing each other of nothing less than murder. But if we prioritize Picasso’s reactions, the idea of lying, also so decisive here, was not merely rhetorical–especially given the fact that insults to honor were a defining feature of Spanish culture.

The royal shivaree and Picasso’s Dream and Lie of Franco

As mentioned above, on Friday January 8, 1937, Picasso saw and reacted to a crude caricature on the cover of Le Charivari, a right-wing satirical weekly. Le Charivari was on the outer reaches of the French Right, at the point where it shaded into outright fascism. Previously, on 23 February 1935 Le Charivari’s cover had portrayed Léon Blum as a vulture. The caricaturist had curved Blum’s nose into the beak so beloved of anti-semitic caricaturists, showing him picking away at a Christ-like victim. Presumably, this was the fate in store for suffering taxpayers if the Popular Front ever came to power. (44) Ralph Soupault, the cartoonist who drew the cover which interests us, would subsequently make himself notorious in March 1937 for a violently anti-semitic depiction of Léon Blum. On that occasion, Soupault portrayed Blum, by then Prime Minister, as being covered in blood, saying: “Who said I had no French blood?” in reference to a violently suppressed demonstration. (45)

Picasso, Dream and Lie of Franco, Part I, 8 January 1937.

The cover for this particular issue of Le Charivari showed a vulture perched on the edge of a coffin. Although Saturday January 9 was its cover date, we can confirm that it came out a day earlier by consulting L’Action Française, which announced its appearance on January 8th. (See here, at the bottom.) Given the weekly’s previous and future record, the vulture on Le Charivari’s cover of January 8, 1937 must be a direct reference to the notion of the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy, so beloved of the Nazi and Fascist right in the 1930s. The vulture has a red hammer and sickle on its chest, and two drops of blood are falling from its blood-covered beak. We know where the blood comes from because the open coffin on which it is perched carries a name: Louis Delaprée. (46)

The reason I am so sure that Pablo Picasso saw this caricature is that, a few days later, he replied to Le Charivari’s cover with a painting that is, detail by detail, its exact antithesis. On January 19, 1937, Picasso portrayed a woman-vulture from exactly the same angle, and with an identical slant of the neck, also looking sideways at us. In one claw, she grasps the Nationalist flag, red, yellow and red, except that against a yellow background we can only clearly make out the two little red stripes which match the vulture’s two drops of blood. Whereas the vulture’s body has the emblem of the hammer and sickle, hers is covered in crosses, their symbolic antithesis. She is standing on a raised balcony, which is of a funereal black but is covered by a white lapidary inscription: “Portrait of the Marchioness Of The Christian Ass, tossing a coin to the Moorish soldiers, defenders of the Virgin”. (47)

To Le Charivari’s dark evocation of Bolshevik machinations, Picasso is offering the riposte, much used on the Republican side, that the Nationalist generals have built their “Christian” crusade on the military might of the Moorish soldiers of the Army of Africa. Picasso adds a little touch of blasphematory burlesque by giving his woman-vulture the noble title of Marchioness Of The Christian Ass. In spirit, this painting has an obvious afinity with Dream and Lie of Franco. The text was unusually explicit by Picasso’s standards, although it had its own logic in this context.

The Charivari/Portrait of the Marchioness parallels prove that Picasso did indeed react to the Potez 54 / Delaprée affair. Picasso began his series of etchings Dream and Lie of Franco on January 8, 1937, on exactly the same day that the infinitely less gifted Ralph Soupault published his blood-spattered vulture; and Louis Delaprée’s writings on the bombing of Madrid also appeared that day. Picasso’s painting of a few days later not only shows that that Picasso reacted to that caricature, then, but also that something in it turned his stomach enough to make him want to “copy,” invert, and refute it. Dream and Lie, too, is a classic piece of inversion, beginning with its title, and I think I now have enough elements to study it more closely.

Dream and Lie of Franco is a two-part series of etchings, accompanied by a prose poem, that represents Franco as a grotesque king in a Spanish Golden Age setting. (48) In form, it is inspired by traditional narrative prints called aleluyas. (49) In successive scenes, Franco is shown riding a variety of steeds, walking a tightrope or chipping away at a classical statue. This monstrous polyp comes off much the worse in his jousting with a bull who radiates an incomparably greater power and dignity. There are four scenes, added later on, which are close to the Guernica; but a prostrate woman, also seemingly a war victim, belongs with the earliest etchings. The Franco figure is close to the burlesque scatological Ubu, a character created by the French author Alfred Jarry, while scholars have detected a number of quite specific references to the Spanish Civil War in this series, and especially to Madrid. (50)

The voice of a dead man accuses the lying press

As always, the spirit of Goya is omnipresent. Many people felt that Goya was somehow their contemporary in his portrayal of the horrors of war–“no better better reporter on the Spanish Civil War than Goya”, as the moderate weekly Marianne put it, juxtaposing Goya’s images with recent photos. (51) In this instance, an acknowledged influence is Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters, perhaps seen as a strange premonition of nocturnal aerial bombardments on the day that Delaprée’s reports on the bombing of Madrid were published.

Given that Picasso saw, and reacted to Le Charivari that day, I think we can ask whether the term ‘charivari’ (or ‘shivaree’ in the United States), had any significance for Dream and Lie. The shivaree was a a centuries-old custom with carnivalesque elements in which villagers made ‘rough music’, such as cacophonous noises with pots and kettles, beneath the windows of a newly married couple. The objects of this persecution were somehow considered to have transgressed habitual norms and expectations.

In European terms, the quintessential subject of a shivaree was talked about on the day that Picasso began Dream and Lie: the British monarch King Edward VIII and his lover Wally Simpson, a twice-divorced American woman, whose planned marriage had precipitated his abdication. The poster that L’Humanité had used to campaign against the ‘lying press’ at the end of December had reproduced Louis Delaprée’s acid comment: “The killing of a hundred Spanish kids is less interesting than a sigh from Mrs Simpson, the royal whore.” That message had also been reproduced in L’Humanité in an uncensored facsimile on December 31, 1936. When readers first saw Delaprée’s pamphlet on January 8, 1937, they will have noticed that the phrase ‘royal whore’ had gone, but of course they will have remembered it. Also on that day, L’Humanité contemptuously reported a complaint about some press reports on Mrs Simpson, managed to work Delaprée’s name into the discussion, and suggested that “Her Highnesses and Her Vile Lownesses should get their act together”. (52)

With regard to Delaprée’s most famous sentence–itself a kind of verbal shivaree–I believe that there is both a “royal whore” and a dethroned king in Dream and Lie. The joke is that Franco is both king and whore. In this carnival of reversals and inversions, Franco has a giant phallus in one scene, but is a female whore in another, swinging his/her hips suggestively, and carrying a fan bearing an emblem of the Virgin, for good measure. There is a destroyed town is in the background, so perhaps the dead kids are also present. In the following scene, the bull charges the monstruous king and he loses his crown. Dream and Lie has its own soundtrack in the form of a poem that is a cacophony of clanking sounds: “cries of children cries of women cries of birds cries of flowers cries of timbers and of stones cries of bricks cries of furniture of beds of chairs of curtains of pots of cats and of papers…” (53) I think that this part of the poem may have echoes of a shivaree, as well as the sounds of a bombed city.

I am not suggesting that Dream and Lie is literally a shivaree, but rather that this is one of a number of carnivalesque elements feeding into it. A peculiarity of Dream and Lie is that can be “read” both sequentially and at random. If we follow its apparent order, it works well as a kind of “story,” beginning one sunny day when the grotesque king sets off on his adventures. Yet the scenes are also independent, and at one point were going to be sold as postcards at the World’s Fair. If we make nine separate cards from the scenes in Part I, we can view them cinematographically in any order, and yet the effect is always the same. We cut continually from a procession to an event and then back again. In the procession sequences, Franco is always seen moving in the same direction against a low background. Our view is from one side, as when we watch a Spanish religious procession pass through a street. In fact, I think the monster is riding on a series of floats: an elongated horse (or perhaps the festive Catalan mulassa or mule); a wounded, winged pegasus; a tarasca (not simply a pig, I think–a tarasca was a dragon-like monster in the feast of Corpus Christi, with a curved back “like a giant armadillo” and a curled tail). (54) He may also be “riding” the giant phallus, in canivalesque register.

Dream and lie is, I believe, a perfect representation of the inversions of Spanish religious festivals, and by extension the broader world of carnivalesque popular culture. Later in 1937 Franco would order the abandonment of carnival precisely because, like Picasso, he saw this fierce explosion of popular energy as the antithesis, and at least potentially the enemy, of ordered, hierarchical Christian society. (55) Dream and lie is suffused with religious symbolism, such as the banners, or religious pendants, which can also be seen in Goya’s painting of the mock ceremony of the Burial of the Sardine at the end of Carnival. (56) But on my reading, this is not because the Church lent its support to Franco (or not mainly for that reason). (57) Rather, Picasso’s distancing in time and space made a religious framework so wholly appropriate: a Spanish religious festival drew on the energy of a whole people in its enactment of the triumph over evil, visualized as a grotesque hybrid monster. (58) In Dream and Lie that monster is Franco.

Picasso first reacted artistically to the Spanish Civil War in the period from 29 December 1936 to January 8-9, 1937. This time frame closely matches the chronology of the Embassy plane / Delaprée controversy. However, this was also a festive time of year. L’Humanité had launched its poster campaign on New Year’s Eve. More to the point, 28 December was the Spanish feast of the Holy Innocents, the equivalent of April Fools’ Day, while January 6th was the traditional Spanish Epiphany. The Holy Innocents commemorated the biblical Massacre of the Innocents, implicit in Delaprée’s phrase about Mrs. Simpson, and was specifically referred to in Delaprée’s Bombs Over Madrid: “Christ said: ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ I feel that after the slaughter of the innocents in Madrid, we should say: ‘Do not forgive them for they know right well what they are doing.’ “ (59) As for Epiphany, this celebrated the Three Kings, when the simplest and most universal inversion was the king’s cardboard crown that made its way into so many households. I can find no specific satirical intent in the photo that L’Humanité published on January 7th, which showed a chimpanzee wearing a cardboard crown and munching away at a slice of king cake; but it does remind us that this was a significant date, whether parodied or inverted.

Perhaps it was the strangeness of this controversy which drew Picasso towards it. (60) Although Picasso was clearly responding to the Spanish Civil War, this was not, in my view, politically commited art as it is usually understood. (61) These events also cohere if we strip them of their ideological trappings, and abstract them from time and place: The voice of a dead man denounces the lying press from beyond the grave; a king loses his crown on account of a whore; bombs are falling on my homeland; perhaps this is a dream, happening far away or long ago; but dreams (songes) are lies (mensonges)… (62) At this point, the drive in Picasso’s undoing of the monster Franco in Dream and Lie came from fierce, blasphematory mockery, and the tragic, universal vision was in the future.

The ruins of Gernika. (Le Petit Journal, 30 April 1937.)

“The lying press, the murderous press” in Picasso’s Guernica

On April 26, 1937, the planes of the German Condor Legion destroyed the Basque town of Gernika causing numerous civilian casualties in the attack that almost immediately preceded the creation of Picasso’s masterpiece. A new and unfamiliar name–Ce Soir initially called it Quirnica (63)–would enter the world’s consciousness. Five days later, Picasso finally moved beyond dilatory sketching for his commission for the Paris World’s Fair to throw all his extraordinary energy into the Guernica. Newspaper reporting played an acknowledged role in the genesis of that masterpiece, and indeed newsprint imagery has been detected within the painting itself. But I feel that there is much more to be said about it in the light of what we have seen of Picasso’s reactions over the previous months.

News of the attack on Gernika first reached Paris in the afternoon of April 27th, and on April 28th it was major headline news in L’Humanité and elsewhere. But it was not big news in all the French press, and in some French newspapers it was not even news at all. There is no doubt that the presence of foreign journalists in the Basque country, rapidly making their way to bombed Gernika, was decisive in bringing these events to the world’s attention. George Steer’s report had an especially notable impact because it was published in both the New York Times and London’s most influential newspaper, the Times. (In British establishment circles in the 1930s, only events mentioned in the Times were considered truly newsworthy.) (64) However, Herbert Southworth’s exhaustive work has shown that Gernika was primarily a media event in the English-speaking world, in contrast to what he calls a “wall of silence” in France. Southworth has also studied another twist, namely the story rapidly cooked up by Nationalist propagandists that the Basques had destroyed and burned the town themselves before retreating. (65)

Gernika/Guernica owes its symbolic primacy to Picasso’s masterpiece. Time and again we read that “nothing like this calculated and meticulously planned massacre… had occurred in modern times.” (66) But this is not true. Madrid remained a far more universal reference during the Spanish Civil War itself. (67) Prior to Gernika there had been – notably, but not exclusively – the day and night aerial bombardments of Madrid, the attacks on the Málaga-Almería road and the Basque town of Durango, and then the renewed artillery shelling of Madrid, each time with numerous casualties. (68) And before Picasso single-handedly refocused our vision, these attacks were threading together to form a single narrative. (69) When Delaprée’s accounts of the aerial bombardments of Madrid in November 1936 were published on January 8, 1937, this was under the title The Martyrdom of Madrid. But a French pamphlet on the aerial bombardments of Durango on March 31 and April 2, 1937 was given a near-identical title: Durango, Martyred Town. (70) I think Picasso’s painting draws directly on both these sources, as well as being an infinite enlargement of them, a kind of Martyrdom of Guernica.

A dead priest lies in the bombed church of Durango. (Durango, Ville Martyre, c 30 April 1937).

The religious connotations that suffuse the Guernica have been widely acknowledged, but to the best of my knowledge the pro-Francoist aerial bombardments of Durango have been wholly ignored as a possible source. Yet these dreadful massacres in the predominantly Catholic Basque country took the lives of priests and nuns, along with many others, and religious buildings were destroyed. No single event so perfectly undermined the case that Fascist and Nazi aviation somehow represented Christian values. The French pamphlet Durango, Martyred Town is likely to have been a far more important visual source for Picasso than the familiar newspaper photos of bombed Gernika. The pamphlet was profusely illustrated with terrible images but, more significantly, it was advertised for purchase in L’Humanité on Monday May 3, 1937. (71) That means that, like the other pamphlets and weeklies we have discussed, it will have been published on the previous Friday, i.e. April 30th, the day before Picasso began the Guernica. In an earlier piece I discussed how pamphlets like Delaprée’s Martyrdom were forwarded to international figures like Virginia Woolf, and this pamphlet will most certainly have reached Picasso. It was on much better quality paper than the daily newspapers, and the images were far sharper. This means that when Picasso was first hearing and reading about Gernika, he was really seeing Durango.

One image is especially strange. A dead priest lies shockingly inert, like a huge flattened puppet, in the foreground (p. 14). One of his arms stretches out horizontally in the posture of the Crucifixion, but the other arm seems to be completely missing. In the background we can make out images of the Mother and Child, while there is a vertical pulpit to the right. Three contemporary figures, Basque motorized policemen, stand incongruously in this mad, deformed Baroque scene. It is not for me to analyze Picasso’s imagery – and the cut arm appeared previously in Picasso’s painting of December 29, 1936 – but I do think this photo needs to be studied for possible links to the Guernica, and especially the image of the fallen warrior. (72) (I mention another photo of the victims in Durango below.)

The extent to which a particular bombardment became a full-scale media event depended, to put it crudely, on how much serviceable newspaper copy it generated and how quickly this reached the international press. Durango had been attacked on March 31 and April 2, 1937, but for all its passionate pro-Republican advocacy, L’Humanité was only able to publish this news prominently on its front page on April 6th. On the same day, the mass-circulation evening newspaper Paris-Soir also reported the dead and wounded in a church in Durango, while failing to make clear who was responsible. (73) On the other hand, the intensive shelling of Madrid in April 1937, a city which international figures as diverse as Ernest Hemingway, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a British Duchess, and Hollywood film star Errol Flynn all passed through, was always bound to make the headlines. (74) The result was that the shelling became a major Francoist propaganda setback, from which few obvious military advantages accrued.

We get a small reality check by looking at the French newspaper Le Matin for April 28, 1937, when the latest bombardment of Madrid was given a prominent place among the main headlines, while the news of Gernika was only secondary.

In a previous piece, I studied the raised arm holding a hammer and sickle that Picasso sketched on a copy of the mass circulation evening newspaper Paris-Soir on April 19, 1937. In impishly placing the hammer and sickle at the top of Paris-Soir’s name, Picasso was mimicking L’Humanité, where it formed part of the logo. That raised arm and clenched fist of defiance made their way directly into pre-Guernica sketches so we are talking about Picasso’s reactions on the eve of its creation. I believe that they reflected Picasso’s anger at what was missing from the front page of Paris-Soir that day, and had been discretely ‘hidden’ away on page 3, namely, the news of the bombardment of Madrid. The defaced front page had reported Foreign Minister Yvon Delbos’s bland wish to stay friends with all parties, i.e. including Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. So Picasso was also reproaching another type of deceit, the official Franco-British policy of Non-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War. The bombs falling in Spain gave the lie to Non-Intervention.

Given these precedents, I’d like to take a close look at the reactions of the Paris press, over the three days before Picasso started his painting. Many of the newspapers can now be consulted online, so the reader can follow the links provided at each date. (75) Of course Picasso will not have read all these newspapers, but I am convinced that they provide us with a good overall picture of the atmosphere in Paris – how the news story was panning out, what was being said and left unsaid. (76)

I’ll begin with two respected daily newspapers, the moderate Le Temps, and the more conservative Le Figaro. Neither newspaper had reports on Gernika on April 28–Le Temps had a general account of the Basque campaign that day–although the news had begun to reach Paris the evening before. In itself, there was nothing terribly sinister about this silence. In general, the more serious newspapers did not publish news items without copy from their own correspondents, or reports from agencies like Havas, neither of which they had received. And after all, Gernika was not Guernica yet. On April 29 and April 30 Le Temps attached comparable importance to the bombardment, the Nationalist denial and the reaction in London. On April 19 Le Figaro had coverage along similar lines, a ‘balanced’ three-way treatment, almost symmetrically divided into three parts: the Basque government’s accusations, the Nationalist counter-accusations and the émotion in London. On April 30 Le Figaro did include a photo of the ruins of Gernika, and specifically attributed the damage to an aerial bombardment.

How would the likes of Picasso have reacted to this seemingly anodyne type of coverage? Rather than its lack of depth (not in itself so unusual), I think two other aspects were outrageous. Firstly, thanks to the Times’ decisive impact, the reaction in Britain had become the story. On 29-30 April the French press, across the political spectrum, focused on the turmoil in Britain. Potentially at stake, of course, was the joint policy of Non-Intervention, the rock on which French-British cooperation was built. The bombs falling on the Basque country were somehow minor collateral damage in a bigger game. But we can be absolutely sure that Picasso did not see things in these terms. If the big news in the mainstream French press was that the British were getting worked up, then surely this represented a huge challenge for a Spanish artist living on French soil. If the artist had the power to cut through all the falsehoods and make us look straight at the world, what better opportunity would he get?

Secondly, news which for once was based on an irreproachable source like the Times was being placed on exactly the same footing as the Nationalist counter-accusations. Nearly all historians have stressed how heavy-handed and counterproductive these Nationalist claims were, and over time this was no doubt true. The Nationalist propagandists were to prove remarkably unwilling to let things go, and their claims had a sinuous and persistent after-life. (77) Nevertheless, for a very short time they did muddy the waters. For example, on 29 April the Catholic newspaper La Croix called the bombing ‘frightful and useless’, but on 30 April it practically retracted: “Who is responsible for the bombing of Guernica?” (78) The point about this backtracking is that it took place just before Picasso launched himself into the Guernica. At this point the lie seemed to be gaining ground.

While there was a conservative bias in the French press, mass circulation newspapers never liked to miss out on big news stories, and mainly thanks to the Times this had certainly become one. Le Petit Parisien made it a huge front page story on 28 April, presumably in its later editions as it used material from that day’s Times. On 29 April it covered the debate on Gernika in the British Parliament. On 30 April a girl’s eyewitness account made the front page. It was also important news in Le Petit Journal on 28 April, as well as on the 29 April (see also here); but once again with a considerable emphasis on the indignation in London. The photo that Le Petit Journal published on its front page on 30 April has an interesting spatial disposition. As in the Guernica, the sky is seen through a window on the top right, there is intense light in the center of the photo, while the buildings on the left are receding. (There were more images of desolation on page 3.) Paris-Soir benefited from its agreement with the Daily Express to republish Noel Monks’ eyewitness report. Typically, Paris-Soir tried to have it both ways, with a main headline saying that Gernika had been destroyed by planes, and a secondary one reporting the Nationalist allegations. (79)

Among reactionary newspapers, L’Écho de Paris retracted a detail in its previous day’s report and blamed the Basques for the destruction on 29 April. It provided the full Nationalist version on 30 April, complete with a photo of the damage caused by the ‘red militia’. On the far right, L’Action Française didn’t bother to cover the attack at all. It included a small announcement on 30 April that Gernika had been taken.

L’Humanité, Picasso’s regular newspaper, attached great importance to the bombing from 28 April onwards. Its assertion that this was “the most horrible bombardment” since the beginning of the Spanish Civil War was typical of its combative style. That day L’Humanité also printed a photo to accompany its first report of the news from Gernika. This photo could not possibly have reached the newspaper so quickly from Gernika. Indeed L’Humanité specifically acknowledged this fact in its caption, which referred to “some women – no doubt mothers – killed during a bombardment”. In other words, its point was a universal one: fascism kills.

This photo is no minor detail in our narrative of the Guernica because it has been argued that this photo of the dead woman facing upwards was ‘the decisive shock’ for Picasso, and that she was the model for a prostrate woman in an early version of the Guernica. (80) Similar photos had been published periodically since the bombardments of Madrid in November 1936, but not even L’Humanité served them up on a daily or weekly basis. On 10 February 1937, L’Humanité published an image of bomb victims, who had been escaping from Málaga, Picasso’s birthplace. On 30 April 1937 the pamphlet Durango, Ville Martyre published a photo of the dead victims of the bombing of a church in the Basque town of Durango (p.18), which had previously been published in L’Humanité on 6 April. If we compare that image with the one that the same newspaper reproduced on 28 April, we can see that the woman in the foreground is not only very similar, but is shown in the same posture, and from an identical angle. The woman in the earlier photo looks younger, but then so does the woman in Picasso’s preliminary sketch.

The prostrate woman in Picasso’s sketch may have been one or the other of these victims, or perhaps both. I don’t think it matters that neither actually came from Gernika itself because we are still talking about the maelstrom of emotion in the wake of its destruction. There is a cumulative effect in this recurring pattern of aerial bombardments: ever more dead, ever more lies. Anger and mockery had previously surfaced in Picasso’s work, but nothing compared to the Guernica’s extraordinary release of energy, in which so many disparate elements were fused together. Surely, now, the future bombardment of Barcelona, where Picasso’s mother and sister lived, was also in the air. (It was to happen in March 1938.)

The widespread assumption that George Steer’s report, which was republished in L’Humanité on 29 April, had a decisive impact on Picasso is altogether plausible. (81) Apart from Steer and Delaprée, few other ‘bourgeois’ journalists can have had their reports published in the Communist newspaper L’Humanité at this period. Both journalists described the effects of the aerial bombardments of civilians, albeit in contrasting styles as Steer was more measured and less emotional than Delaprée. I think their writings had such an impact precisely because of their provenance. L’Humanité’s combative and iconoclastic style may have been good fun for readers like Picasso, but the critical writing of independent journalists from newspapers like the Times or Paris-Soir must have carried more authority.

I believe the spirit of Picasso’s masterpiece is close to Louis Delaprée’s descriptions of the nightmarish nocturnal bombardments of Madrid in November 1936. The theme of the Mother and Child Pietà is so universal that it would be reckless to ascribe it to a single influence. Nevertheless, I do think Picasso scholars should study the passage in Louis Delaprée’s night scene in Bombs Over Madrid where a flashlight illuminates a dead child in the arms of an injured woman who has had her breast gashed. (That last detail is also present in Guernica-related sketches.) The text of Bombs Over Madrid was published in The Martyrdom of Madrid on 8 January, the same day that Picasso began Dream and Lie, and it was also republished in L’Humanité on the following day. Its religious/blasphematory conclusion (also very much in the spirit of the Guernica) was placed at the top left of the page as an epigraph: “Christ said: ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do’. I feel that after the slaughter of the innocents in Madrid, we should say: ‘Do not forgive them for they know right well what they are doing.’”

The aerial bombardments of Madrid, Durango and Gernika had all been enveloped in lies and silences. But the most brazen and insistent deception was the Nationalist claim from late April 1937 onwards that the Basques had destroyed Gernika themselves. That lie was beginning to gain in force precisely when Picasso began the Guernica and, according to at least one interpretation, provided its central focus. Thus, the head in the window has been interpreted as an allegory of truth, in accordance with a Bronzino painting from which the accompanying arm holding a light was also taken. The counter-argument runs that if Truth were the subject, following the Bronzino allegory, then surely Calumny and Deceit should also be present. (82) But perhaps they are: the lamp held by the arm is shining onto scratchy newsprint. And if truth is represented by a classical image, the newsprint it shines onto is strictly contemporary. There is a similar opposition in Dream and Lie of Franco, when the revolting little monster Franco chips away at a majestic, noble, classical bust. The French title Songe et Mensonge de Franco also reflects this contrast. Songe was the classical word (in everyday useage ‘dream’ would be rêve), while mensonge was the altogether contemporary word that Picasso read on a daily basis in L’Humanité’s ongoing campaign against the “lying press”.

My work has been based on the premise – scarcely sacrilegious – that the Guernica was an artifact of its times, rooted in the social history of the 1930s. Picasso’s art “created reality on its own terms”(83): instead of representing one event literally, the Guernica plays on the nightmare of recurring aerial bombardments, in which Gernika is the culmination of a process that has already affected Madrid and Durango. When Picasso created both Dream and Lie of Franco and the Guernica, it was each time slightly after the event, and each time in a context in which the main story was being obscured or overwhelmed by deception. On 8 January 1937, Picasso responded to the bombardments of Madrid, but only on the delayed publication of Delaprée’s writing, and amidst press controversy. Picasso began his Guernica on 1 May, fairly soon after the destruction of Gernika, but when Nationalist claims were gaining ground. Picasso had an astonishing artistic armory to combat lies and distortions. It was on this slippery terrain that he ridiculed the monster Franco in January 1937; while in the Guernica he shone a fierce light onto the tattered newsprint of the “lying press, the murderous press”.

Martin Minchom’s publications include Spanish editions of Geoffrey Cox, La defensa de Madrid (2005), and Louis Delaprée, Morir en Madrid (2009).

1 I am especially grateful to Mme Catherine Lincoln-Delaprée for all her help, and I would also like to thank Prof. Sebastiaan Faber. Part of this material was presented at the “Jornadas sobre las Brigadas Internacionales: de lo local a lo global”, International Institute, Madrid, 20-21 October 2011 (with thanks to Justin Byrne and Seve Montero).

2 Prior to my Volunteer pieces (see here and here), I suggested a link between Picasso and Delaprée in my edition of Louis Delaprée, Morir en Madrid, Madrid, Editorial Raíces, 2009, pp. 88-96. John Richardson, “How Political was Picasso?“, New York Review of Books, 25 November 2010, pp. 27-30, uncovered a painting of 29 December 1936 that relates to the Delaprée affair. The art historian Gijs van Hensbergen, Sir John Richardson’s collaborator, kindly sent me a pre-publication copy of this painting.

3 For these killings see Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, W.W. Norton, 2012, read by me in the Spanish edition (2011).

4 Paracuellos massacre“, Wikipedia[last accessed 15 Feb. 2012].

5 César Vidal, Paracuellos-Katyn: un ensayo sobre el genocidio de la izquierda, Barcelona, Planeta, 2007, pp. 207-213. It’s depressing that Vidal can be so categorical (p. 213) about documentation that he has neither seen nor apparently attempted to locate.

6 I looked in the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes, Paris (MAEE/P), before finding the key file in the Archives diplomatiques de Nantes: Madrid – Ambassade – Guerre Civile (AD/N – MAGC) 570.

7 Le Charivari was dated 9 January 1937, but like most weeklies it came out a day earlier.

8 The classic account is Herbert R. Southworth, La destruction de Guernica: Journalisme, diplomatie, propagande et histoire, Paris, Ruedo Ibérico, 1975. See David Wingeate Pike, France Divided: The French and the Civil War in Spain, Eastbourne, Sussex Academic Press, 2011, pp. 280-305, for a useful summary of the French press and its political sympathies.

9 Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Presse qui ment, presse qui tue!… Paris, Éd populaire de propagande, n.d. (1936).

10 Gijs van Hensbergen, Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon, London, Bloomsbury, 2004 (2005 edn.), p. 33.

11 Eric Michaud, “Matisse and Picasso: The Redemption and The Fall”,, January 25, 2011 [last accessed 15 February, 2012]. See here here for the epigraph at the head of this piece: “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.”

12 Ian Gibson, Paracuellos: cómo fue [1983], Madrid, Temas de hoy, 2005, p. 150-151. (These files were only declassified well after Gibson had published his book.)

13 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Telegram 278, 11 December 1936: testimony of Charles Boyer.

14 Ian Gibson, op. cit., p. 150.

15 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Telegram 271, 9 December 1936.

16 Pierre Marqués, La Croix-Rouge pendant la Guerre d’Espagne, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2000, p. 119, Henny, Report to the Red Cross, Geneva, 2 January 1937.

17 AD/N – MAGC, 570, nº 25, 10 January 1937, Déclarations de M. Château: “Henny passait sans doute pour être un témoin gênant.”

18 Miguel Pérez Ferrero, Drapeau de France: La vie des refugiés dans les legations de Madrid, Paris, Sorlot, 1938, pp. 93-94.

19 Mme Catherine Lincoln-Delaprée is the author of a very lively and readable reconstruction of her late father’s final days (forthcoming). Despite Château’s comments, Delaprée does seem to have felt himself threatened.

20 Sefton Delmer, Trail Sinister, Londres, Secker & Warburg, 1961, pp. 322-326.

21 Felipe Ezquerro Ezquerro, “El derribo del Potez de la Embajada Francesa sobre Pastrana. ¿Error o intención?”, Revista Española de Historia Militar, nº 9, marzo 2001, pp. 120-121.

22 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Telegram 269-272, 9 December 1936.

23 Andrés García Lacalle, Mitos y verdades: la aviación de caza en la Guerra Española, Mexico, Oasis, 1973, pp. 218-220.

24 This point emerges in the AD/N documentation, while c.f. the generally unreliable Keith Scott Watson, Single to Spain, London, Arthur Barker, 1937, p. 234.

25 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Telegram 290-291, 12 December 1936: “Il y aura tout au moins un de ceux qui partent qui n’arrivera pas.”

26 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Folder 19 January 1937.

27 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Telegram 265, 8 December 1936, time: 21.00.

28 AD/N – MAGC, 570, 283, 11 December 1936; and 308, 16 December 1936.

29 AD/N – MAGC, 570, 19 January 1937: Telegram on identifying planes. According to nº 291, 13 December 1936, the pilot and radio operator saw similar planes on the ground near Guadalajara.

30 Juan Manuel Riesgo had not seen my 2010 Alba piece (at note 13), when he confirmed this point in a talk in Madrid in early 2011.

31 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Telegram 25, 10 January 1937: Déclarations de M. Château.

32 Archives nationales, Paris 5AR, 271: Madrid – Havas – Guerre Civile. Dossiers de Reporters. Mr Château. Letter from Château to Havas, 18 April 1937. Telegram, Bordeaux, Havas, 19 avril 1937.

33 AD/N – MAGC, 570, Diplomatie 50-51, 16 January 1937: he found no new “argument péremptoire contre les Autorités gouvernementales. / Tout au plus pourrait-on insister sur le fait (signalé par mon télégramme nº 290-291) que d’après le pilote Boyer et le radiotélégraphiste, le type et les bandes rouges de l’appareil agresseur étaient semblables à ceux des avions gouvernementaux”.

34 AD/N – MAGC, 570, 19 March 1937.

35 See for example, the article of Ricardo Miralles in Ángel Viñas (dir.), Al Servicio de la República, Diplomáticos y guerra civil, Madrid, Marcial Pons, 2010, at pp. 130-133.

36 For similar contrasts in British diplomacy, Ángel Viñas, La conspiración del general Franco, Barcelona, Crítica, 2011, pp. 129-246. There are many examples of an anti-Republican bias: AD/N – MAGC, 570, 1232, 14 December 1936, for reflections on the need to rethink the whole perspective on Republican Spain in the light of this case. Telegram of 15 December 1936 sent by a general in Valladolid to the consul in San Sebastián saying “The person you’re looking for is called Red”, (“Autor que le interesa se llama Rojo”), and taken completely seriously despite its Francoist provenance.

37 Anne-Aurore Inquimbert, Un officier français dans la guerre d’Espagne. Carrière et écrits d’Henri Morel (1919-1944), Presses Universitaires de Rennes / Service Historique de la Défense, Rennes, 2009, for example, pp. 162, 175.

38 A. R. Chisholm, “Europe and Ourselves—And a Saxophone”, The Australian Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2 (June 1937), p. 70.

39 For this contrast, “Metralla en las alas de Francia, La Voz, 9 December 1936 compared to “Ha muerto Louis Delaprée”, La Voz, 11 December 1936.

40 Carlos Serrano, L’enjeu espagnol: PCF et guerre d’Espagne, París, Messidor / Éditions sociales, 1987, pp. 91-92 for an undefined propaganda initiative. I have consulted the corresponding papers in the Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid, Fondo Araquistáin, Leg 23 A 108, but they provide few details. This was a time of intense propaganda activity, c.f. MAEE/P, Direction des Affaires Politiques et commerciales, Espagne 142 (p. 200), Direction Génerale de la Sûreté Nationale to MAE, Paris, 9 January 1937, mentioning the imminent publication of L’Espagne Libre, a weekly published by the Generalitat’s press office in Paris, and with some Komintern money from Willi Münzenberg. For the activites of Agence Espagne, see Hugo García, Mentiras necesarias, La batalla por la opinión británica durante la Guerra Civil, Madrid, Biblioteca Nueva, 2008, pp. 89-92.

41 Robert Brasillach, “Allo Malraux”, Je suis partout, 2 January 1937; and then much more explicitly, “Quand demandera-t-on l’extradition d’André Malraux?”, Je suis partout, 16 January 1937 (now online: here). For Brasillach, Niall Binns, La Llamada de España: Escritores Extranjeros en la Guerra Civil, Madrid, Montesinos, 2004, pp. 145-148, and Martin Hurcombe, France and the Spanish Civil War: Cultural Representations of the War next Door, Farnham, Ashgate, 2011, pp. 81-109.

42 Arturo Barea, La forja de un rebelde, Barcelona, Debate, 2003 edn., p. 735, claimed that Delaprée was going to have it out with the people at the Quai d’Orsay when he returned to France; but I think he was misremembering this posthumous controversy. On the evidence of the files, Delaprée had no problems with the diplomatic service.

43 Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Presse qui ment, presse qui tue!… op. cit.

44 Online here (halfway down the page).

45 Eugen Weber, L’Action Française, Stanford University Press, 1962, p. 391. See here for another anti-semitic caricature of Blum. (When accessed on 20 February 2012, this website gave inflated circulation figures for the right-wing press.)

46 Le Charivari, 8-9 January 1937: my own copy.

47 Figure of a Woman Inspired by the Spanish Civil War, Paris, 19 January, 1937.

48 From Picasso’s notes it appears that the title Songe et Mensonge de Franco was not meant to be Sueño y Mentira de Franco in Spanish. At one point, he jotted down wordplay, once again contrasting opposites: ‘dicha desdicha/de Franco’ (well-being and misfortune): Vinyetes al front, Barcelona, Museu Picasso, 2011, p. 161 (pp. 157-166, online here). According to Gertje R. Utley, Picasso: The Communist Years, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 17-18, 20-21, a drawing of 9 January 1937, “Bather under a black sun” was also linked to Spain. The common thread may be Gérard de Nerval’s poem El Desdichado (“The Ill-starred One”), which referred to “the black sun of melancholy”. In Dream and Lie, the bright sun darkens.

49 See the essays and illustrations in Vinyetes, op cit.

50 For scene by scene references, Patricia Failing, “Picasso’s ‘Cries of Children…Cries of Stones.’” Art News 126, 7 (Sept 1977): 55-64; and Vinyetes, pp. 167-177 (text in English).

51 “Pas de meilleur reporter sur la guerre civile en Espagne que Francesco (sic) Goya”, Marianne, 19 august 1936.

52 “Aux trusts de presse en attendant mieux”, L’Humanité, 8 January 1937, discussing Mrs Simpson’s complaints about some press reports: “Que ces Altesses et ces Bassesses se débrouillent entre elles!”

53 Translation from Vinyetes, op. cit., p. 166.

54 David D. Gilmore, “Tarasca: Ritual Monster of Spain“, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 152 (3), September 2008, p. 367. For images from an earlier period, Javier Portús Pérez, La Antigua Procesión de Corpus Christi en Madrid, Madrid, Consejería de Educación y Cultura, 1993. The pig was not a common animal in Picasso’s bestiary, and this hybrid could have been both pig and tarasca.

55 David D. Gilmore, Carnival and Culture, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1998, p. 12.

56 Picasso studied at the San Fernando academy in Madrid, which owned this painting, and knew the area because he had attended the verbena at San Antonio de la Florida in 1898: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Volume I, 1881-1906, London, Pimilico, [1991], 209, p. 97. As well as its pendant, the sinister, smiling Sun is similar to the – Falangist? – one which shines at Franco in the opening scene of Dream and Lie.

57 The source for Franco walking the tightrope is Goya’s May the Rope break, which is remarkable for its portrayal of the latent power of the watching crowd.

58 The bull has been associated with the Spanish people in Dream and Lie, and it is shown twice, gaining in vitality after it has defeated the monster. In the second depiction, the bull is a noble animal radiating power. c.f. David D. Gilmore, “Tarasca op. cit. p. 366, for “rituals in which people are attacked by an external force representing evil, usually embodied in the form of a menacing animal or a monster. The people then defeat the monster through common action, killing the beast and returning to normalcy, not in the same form as before, but with a renewed “vitality” that they derive from appropriating and “consuming” the power of the thing they have killed.” Festive rivalry was the ultimate expression of group honor: Timothy J. Mitchell, Violence and Piety in Spanish Folklore, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988, pp. 38-56.

59 L’Humanité used it as an epigraph at the top of the page on 9 January 1937.

60 For Picasso’s politics, John Richardson, “How politicalop. cit. An example of Picasso’s hitherto apolitical character was the way, 30 years earlier, he sat out Catalonia’s agitated Tragic Week, John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Volume II, 1907-1917, London, Pimilico, [1996], 2009, p. 136.

61 The commission for the World’s Fair is not proof that Picasso wanted to do something ‘political’, given how dilatory he was prior to the Guernica. The political references in Failing, op. cit. 55-64, and Vinyetes, pp. 167-177 are unmistakeable and extremely well documented (and, interestingly, many of them refer to Madrid). But I feel that Picasso’s fiercely ironic and transforming mockery belongs to a very different tradition from most ‘political’ art.

62 The Golden Age dramatist Calderón de la Barca’s Life’s a Dream has been considered a possible influence. The advert for Dream and Lie included a fascinating quotation from Francisco de Quevedo, which is a strange reminder of how the “voice of a dead man” was made to speak in L’Humanité’s press campaign: “I govern men going rotten, neither living nor dead, who bring a finely adorned ghost..” (“Yo administro unos hombres a medio podrir, entre vivos y muertos, que traen bien aliñada fantasma…”, Vinyetes, p. 161.

63 “800 victimes a Quirnica, Ancienne capitale basque”, Ce Soir, 28 de abril 1937.

64 In 1936, the dying King George V was injected with morphine so that the news would be announced in the Times and not in the “less appropriate” evening newspapers.

65 Herbert R. Southworth, op. cit., studies how the French Havas agency failed to supply good copy rapidly, despite having a reporter in the Basque country. His book is dedicated, in part, to those who broke this “wall of silence”.

66 Russell Martin, Picasso’s War, Dutton, 2002, p. 51.

67 Simone Téry recalled the “famous” bombings of Madrid when she was looking for a point of reference for bombardments of Barcelona by Italian aviation in March 1938. Simone Téry, Front de la liberté: Espagne 1937-1938, Paris, Éditions sociales internationales, 1938, p. 315.

68 For figures, Josep Maria Solé i Sabaté and Joan Villarroya, España en llamas, La guerra civil desde el aire, Madrid, Temas de Hoy, 2003. Compare: Robert Stradling, Your Children will be Next: Bombing and Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2008.

69 A pamphlet was published, or at least edited, just two days after the bombing of Gernika: Pierre Gérôme, La Presse et Franco, Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes, Paris, 28 avril, 1937. As Gernika was such recent news, it is interesting that they managed to work in a footnote at all (at p. 34n). The main narrative of ‘events’ consisted of sections on Badajoz, Madrid, Málaga and Durango (pp. 28-34), and only the first of these had no place in the emerging series of aerial bombardments. L’Humanité connected Gernika and Durango on innumerable occasions: for example, 7, 9, 10, 15 and 31 May and 11 June 1937. Paradoxically, it was Picasso’s masterpiece, drawing on both, that eventually broke this link.

70 Durango, Ville Martyre: Ce que furent les bombardements de la ville de Durango par les avions allemands, Comité Franco-Espagnol, Paris, n.d. (before 3 May 1937). Despite its title, Italian aviation was involved. ‘Le Martyre de Guernica’ was subsequently evoked, c.f. Southworth, op. cit. pp 21, 40.

71 Durango only made page 1 of L’Humanité on 6 April 1937 so preparation certainly began later than that. It needed some time to be written and printed (although this was usually done quickly), which takes us into late April. The advertisement in L’Humanité on 3 May gives us a likely cut-off date of 30 April 1937. (1 May was a celebration and 2 May was a Sunday.)

72 This strange and disturbing image was also later reproduced in G.L. Steer, The Tree of Gernika: A Field Study of Modern War, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1938, pp. 96-97.

73 “Des bombes d’avion tombent sur l’église de Durango (Biscaye)”, Paris-Soir, 7 April 1937 (a day earlier).

74 “Madrid’s 18 Days Under Shell Fire / Still a Million People in the Capital / Senseless Bombardment of Frequented Streets”, The Manchester Guardian, 30 April 1937; “Comment j’ai failli être tué dans Madrid bombardée”, par le célèbre acteur de cinema Erroll Flynn”, Paris-Soir, 8 April 1937.

75 Non-digitized newspapers (as of 15 February 2012) include Paris-Soir and Ce soir, consulted on microfilm at the National Library in Paris.

76 Picasso read several newspapers at this period, c.f. Patricia Failing, op. cit. pp.55-64.

77 This point is developed in great depth in Southworth, op. cit.

78 In this case, La Croix reported the surreal accusation that red planes might be attacking their own town.

79 “La ville sainte des basques: Guernica détruite de fond en comble par les avions.” Lesser heading: “Cependant les nationalists affirment que la ville a été incendiée par les Basques avant d’être evacuée”, Paris-Soir, 29 April 1937 (in fact a day earlier).

80 Herschel B. Chipp, El Guernica de Picasso, Historia, transformaciones, significado, Barcelona, Polígrafa, 1991, p. 83, for both photo and image; Rachel Wischnitzer, “Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. A Matter of Metaphor”, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 6 (12) 1985, p. 165.

81 Carlos García Santa Cecilia, ed., Corresponsales en la Guerra de España, Madrid, Instituto Cervantes / Fundación Pablo Iglesias, 2006, facsimile online here, at pp. 127-128; Paul Preston, We Saw Spain Die, London, Constable, 2008, pp. 263-290.

82 Rachel Wischnitzer, op. cit., pp. 163-165, citing R. Hohl, Die Wahrheit über Guernica, Pantheon, 36 (January 1978), pp. 41-58.

83 Gertje R. Utley, op. cit., p. 172.


12 Responses to “ The truth about Guernica: Picasso and the lying press ”

  1. Martin Minchom on April 28, 2012 at 8:54 am

    PS: I’d like to draw the attention of Spanish speakers to: El ‘Guernica’ de Picasso y “la prensa que miente, la prensa que mata”, . It’s mainly based on “The Truth about Guernica…”, and to a lesser extent the other Volunteer pieces. I added some comments on the non-appearance of the French press on 1 May 1937 (the first Labor Day under a Popular Front government, and the day that Picasso began the Guernica). MM

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  4. […] Picasso’s circle of friends and the campaign spearheaded by the French Communist newspaperL’Humanité, arguing that this intriguing “Spanish” news of aerial bombardments, censorship and lies caught the attention of Pablo Picasso, who had not previously manifested any interest in the war as an artistic subject […]

  5. […] The truth about Guernica: Picasso and the lying press | The Volunteer […]

  6. Wilde ideeën en leesvoer (211 & 212) on June 24, 2014 at 11:42 am

    […] – De waarheid achter het werk Guernica van Picasso. […]

  7. […] 1936-1937”, noviembre de 2010; “Picasso and Delaprée: new discoveries”, abril de 2011; “The truth about Guernica: Picasso and the lying press”, marzo de 2012; Carlos García Santa Cecilia, “Destino […]

  8. Emilio Mora on August 11, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    Hello, i am doing the internal assesment for history and i wanted to know more about the origin of this source, maybe if you can give basic information of the author such as their profession, specialisation, and how relevant is the author for the investigation about the guernica painting. I am asking because i have searched his name in google and the only thing i found is, possibly, his book that was published in 2015.

  9. […] this?’ Picasso famously replied, ‘No, you did.’ Picasso had read about these events through communist newspapers such as L’Humanité, making monochromatic works like ‘Guernica’ and the similarly styled […]