Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is among the most revered masterpieces of modern art; but, it turns out, the last time it was exhibited in the UK was in a humble Manchester car show room!
This is was in 1939, when the monumental painting was entrusted to a group of young artists and political activists who casually nailed it up onto the wall of the former showroom of a city Ford dealer.
Guernica was painted by Picasso in an attempt to convey the horrors of war after the 1937 bombing of the town during the Spanish Civil War. Following its completion, the artist agreed that the work should go on a tour of the UK to spread its anti-war message – especially since it seemed that Britain was edging ever closer to war with Nazi Germany.
And so it was displayed in two conventional galleries in London, before being delivered to the Manchester Foodship For Spain – an student activist group which sent aid to support the Republicans of Spain in their fight against fascism. One of the organisers of this exhibition was Harry Baines, the soon-to-be-famous muralist, and his story of how it came about has recently been published in a book by James Hyman – The Battle For Realism.
Baines’ widow Pauline recalls how ‘The size of the work ruled out many venues but eventually they decided on a car showroom where they unrolled the canvas, banged some nails through it and attached it to a wall’: ‘He said it arrived rolled up and there was concern as to whether any of the paint had flaked off or anything like that’; ‘They looked for a gallery but there was nothing big enough, and they found a sympathetic car dealer with a showroom which was large enough to accommodate the whole painting’; ‘As far as he said, there were a few sympathetic people who helped unroll it, and then it was mounted on battens and hung up so that the weight of it got rid of the creases.’
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