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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen