Museum redesign sheds new light on Picasso masterpiece

Picasso's anti-war masterpiece Guernica, the jewel in the crown of Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum, has been given a flattering new look by the city's principal gallery of Spanish modern art.

The museum has replaced yellow spotlights with a pale diffused light as near as possible to natural daylight, making the canvas's monochrome tones appear fresher and warmer. The new setting enables viewers to appreciate a range of greys and whites formerly obscured by dazzling glare.

The walls surrounding the work have been cleared of sketches made while the artist was working on Guernica. These have been hung in adjoining rooms, enabling the huge canvas to dominate a clear space. The gallery has been reconfigured, and walls dismantled, so you can approach the painting head on from afar, instead of scuttling in sideways as before. Further opening up of the space is planned to display the painting as if it were the screen of a cinema.

"Guernica was created to be seen full-on, and not approached from the side," said the museum's director, Manuel Borja-Villel, when presenting the new arrangement this week. "We've achieved the change not by moving the painting, but by turning the museum round."

Viewing Guernica was always a hectic business, with bustling crowds and competing pictures distracting the eye, but it is now a calmer experience. You can even contemplate, without being hurried along a corridor, creases and cracks in the canvas and paintwork that testify to the painting's turbulent history. "You can appreciate the rich subtleties, the variations of tones and textures that were almost imperceptible before," said Mr Borja-Villel.

The reform recreates the open space and natural light of the Spanish pavilion at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1937, for which Picasso created the work. It was a cry of protest at the Nazis' bombardment of the Basque town that April during Spain's Civil War. Picasso conceived his work as a giant propaganda poster, and argued that "painting does not exist to decorate sitting rooms. It's an instrument of offensive and defensive war against the enemy", said Mr Borja-Villel. The museum's rethink is timely. Guernica apart, the Reina Sofia's artworks are often said to be overshadowed by the spectacular collections of the Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums nearby. This despite Jean Nouvel's flashy 2005 extension.

Mr Borja-Villel, who took over as the Reina Sofia's director last December, is aware of the competition: the new display gives Guernica the same prominence "that the Prado gives to Velazquez's Las Meninas", he says, for example, commanding the far end of the museum's finest gallery.

Guernica travelled to New York's Museum of Modern Art after its inauguration in Paris, then criss-crossed the world suffering damage with each journey before it returned to Spain in 1981 amid national rejoicing.

Picasso did not want his finest painting on Spanish soil until after the dictator Franco's death, when he hoped it would enter the Prado. "That was because the Reina Sofia didn't exist then," Mr Borja-Villel insisted this week. "He would have wanted his work to be here."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn