An Italian artist is attempting to recreate Picasso’s “Guernica” in less than a fortnight

Visitors look at Picasso's "Guernica" at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, Spain
Visitors look at Picasso's "Guernica" at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, Spain Copyright Bernat Armangue/AP
Copyright Bernat Armangue/AP
By Christian Moore
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Italian artist Ercole Pignatelli is attempting to recreate Picasso's Guernica in front of a live audience in only 12 days.


When the Nazis decided to wade into the Spanish Civil War in 1937 in support of their fascist ally Francisco Franco, they did so by dropping bombs indiscriminately on the Basque town of Guernica.

No distinction was made by those flying overhead between civilians and militants: many hundreds died, most of them women and children.

It was a bitter foretaste of what was to come. In the years which followed, civilian bombing became a hallmark of the changing face of modern warfare, the term blitzkrieg soon entering international parlance.

An artist bears witness

Observing these events unfold in the press from his studio in Paris, the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso could already foresee, perhaps, this gathering ubiquity, this newly everyday terror of violence.

In response to the carnage of Guernica, Picasso set about creating what was to become perhaps his greatest work, an enormous monochrome hellscape on canvas named after the town itself.

At the time (Guernica was displayed at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair) it made an immediate impact on international feeling around the Spanish Civil War. In the years since, Picasso’s Guernica has become an immovable waystone in the history of anti-war art, its reach of influence singularly wide.

Pablo Picasso in his studio, France, 1953
Pablo Picasso in his studio, France, 1953AP

Something that probably helped the piece reach such a pinnacle of cultural visibility is the way Guernica was exhibited. It went on tour for two years, before taking shelter during the war in New York’s MoMA.

This is where it remained until Picasso made an intervention in 1953 to have the enormous canvas put on show around the world again.

One stop on the ensuing global tour of the piece was the Palazzo Reale in Milan. The museum’s Caryatids Hall, still at that time in a state of roofless, bomb-stricken disrepair, formed an appropriately ruinous setting for the enormous anti-war canvas.

A new twist in the tale

Guernica now resides in Madrid, at the Spanish capital’s Reina Sofía museum. But seven decades after the original left Milan, another Guernica is now taking shape again in the Palazzo Reale’s Caryatids Hall.

That's because Italian artist Ercole Pignatelli, who first saw Guernica at the age of 18 during its Milan exhibition, has just embarked upon a durational performance piece based around recreating and reinterpreting Picasso’s masterpiece before a live audience.

Ercole Pignatelli addresses audience members having made the first strokes to his recreation
Ercole Pignatelli addresses audience members having made the first strokes to his recreationPalazzo Reale/Luca Dicosmo

Now 89, Pignatelli’s lifelong rumination on the work is being brought out in a pen and paint improvisation at the same grand scale as the original. His 3.49 x 7.77 metre canvas has been set up in the Caryatids Hall opposite an equally sized copy of Picasso’s Guernica for him to draw and paint in dialogue with.

Euronews Culture asked Pignatelli what the original meant to him. “In 1953 I stayed for days and days admiring Picasso's masterpieces at the Palazzo Reale,” he said. “It was total admiration.”

Ercole Pignatelli recreating his version of Guernica live
Ercole Pignatelli recreating his version of Guernica livePalazzo Reale/Giulia Zanichelli

As for how this initial influence has grown and developed throughout the course of Pignatelli’s artistic career, the Italian artist said: “Everything distilled over time, but Picasso remains a brilliant creator and I greatly appreciate both his beginnings and the rest of his career. Then there is one quality of his that I have made my own: the great freedom.”

Pignatelli’s intervention, which began on Friday (3 May) and is expected to finish on 16 May, is being staged as part of a wider exhibition and retrospective on Pignatelli’s oeuvre titled Memento Amare Semper (Always Remember to Love), featuring 15 large-scale works completed earlier in the artist’s career, and members of the public are invited and encouraged to come and watch him at work on this latest undertaking.

Palazzo Reale tells us that "the initiative anticipates the exhibition 'Picasso The Foreigner,' scheduled for September, which will feature more than 80 works by the artist, accompanied by documents, photographs, letters and videos from the MNPP and the Musée National de l'Histoire de l'Immigration in Paris."

Ercole Pignatelli's other works on show at the exhibition
Ercole Pignatelli's other works on show at the exhibitionPalazzo Reale/Luca Dicosmo

Asked how he prepared for this demanding durational performance, Pignatelli explained, "I usually don't think about preparation because I don't want to stay tied to a sketch and execute.

"Executing is to lose the sincerity that is the foundation of making an artwork that must be felt in the moment."


As part of the recreation, Pignatelli is not aiming for a perfect imitation, telling the Times that he plans to introduce motifs of hope to the original, as well as ending his performance by painting the sky pink to symbolise a “dawn of hope”.

But in a world which has never stopped reproducing the tragedy which befell the town of Guernica, with countless civilians killed and wounded since 1937 in obscene urban bombing campaigns, will this latest iteration of Picasso’s work end up speaking to renewed hope, or serve instead to underscore the sorry continuum of human brutality?

The performance will run until 16 May at Palazzo Reale, Milan. Following its conclusion, the venue will be hosting a conference entitled “Picasso and Guernica”, with the participation of national and international scholars. Tickets are free, with no reservations necessary. Consult the venue's website for opening hours.

Share this articleComments

You might also like