Thursday, 19 May 2011


Test cricket begins again next week as England take on Sri Lanka.  It is appropriate therefore Fantasy Bob invites your attention to Picasso's Guernica,  one of the undisputed masterpieces of 20th Century art.  It can be found in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.  FB hasn't viewed it there, but was fortunate to see it many years ago in New York.  Test Match Quality.

The painting is conventionally thought to have been inspired by the bombing of the Basque town Guernica in April 1937 during the Spanish Civil War .  The Germans, in their capacity as fast bowling advisers to the Fascists, saw this as a trial match for the blitzkrieg with which a few years later they would devastate much of Western Europe.  Bombing of civilian targets entered the ghastly catalogue of modern war, leading to the Blitz and through successive horrors until the firestorms of Dresden and Hamburg.  And there has been no let up since in man's inhumanity to man.

But while all this history stuff is good and proper, it is wholly misleading as far as Picasso was concerned.   Picasso was a covert cricket fan.  Even the most casual inspection of his work will tell the viewer this.  But Guernica is very particular.  The true inspiration for the painting was the unfolding of England's 1936-37 Ashes tour when, despite Hammond's finest innings, having won the first 2 tests they lost the next 3 to crawl home without the urn.  The final test at Melbourne was a comprehensive stuffing - beaten by an innings and 200 runs.  Relentless as a Stuka, Bradman got 169 and no English batsman could get half of that.  Bill O'Reilly took 5 for 51 in the first innings.

Picasso shows it all.  At the right of the painting there is a bowler makes a despairing appeal, undoubtedly against Bradman. Moving left, there are 2 simply drawn faces which symbolise England's 2 victories.  Then reality strikes and under the all seeing eye of the hard Australian sun, we see a donkey in extremis - a sarcastic comment by the artist on the quality of the England team.  Finally at the left the grieving for the loss of the Ashes.  The bull, a device widely and frequently used by Picasso, can be seen in several ways.  Is it the bull of the early victories receding into the background?  Perhaps and more probably Picasso depicts a minotaur a comment on the labyrinthine challenge of recovering the Ashes.

This art interpretation stuff is pretty easy - once you know what to look for.

FB has yet to establish whether there is any truth in the rumour that Damien Hirst is working on a piece inspired by the IPL.


  1. An interesting interpretation, for which many thanks. I had always understood Guernica to be a retrospective depiction of the 1932-33 Bodyline Series,the prostrate figure on the bottom left being an Australian batter felled by a Larwood bouncer and the figure on the right being Voce, celebrating the dismissal of Bill O'Reilly, to win the First Test at Sydney. However I am happy to stand corrected.

  2. Yes and the wonderful thing about art criticism is that both you and FB can be right at the same time.