The artistic journeys of 3 incredible paintings
We are accustomed to seeing paintings hanging in museums and galleries as static objects. However, very rarely has a work of art remained in the same place over time. Most of them have backstories almost as incredible as the image painted on the canvas. Here are three of the most impressive.
Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937)
This enormous oil painting – it stands at almost 3.5 metres tall and more than 7.5 metres wide – was created by Pablo Picasso during the Spanish Civil War, in response to the bombing of the small town of Guernica. The settlement was the centre of the Republican resistance in the north of Spain, and a hotspot of Basque culture.
Picasso had not heard of the tragedy at first – he was living in Paris at the time – but once he had read an eyewitness account he became moved to create the painting. It took him around three months to paint, and when finished it was displayed at the Paris International Exposition, at the Spanish Pavilion. Nearby was the pavilion for Nazi Germany, whose planes had been responsible for the bombing of Guernica.
The painting received a mixed response at first. However, it was taken on a tour of Europe and North America in order to raise awareness and funds for the Spanish Republican government. It gained fame at this time, and was housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1939 once World War Two broke out.
From this point, it left the museum at several points to be exhibited temporarily in places such as Sao Paulo, Munich and Stockholm. However, it did not go to Spain despite the country’s fascist leader, General Franco, desiring greatly to own it. Picasso forbade it, saying it would only return to Spain when the nation’s people enjoyed “public liberties and democratic institutions”.
Eventually, on October 25th, 1981, Guernica was returned to the new Spanish Republic. It now hangs in the Reina Sofía, Spain’s national museum of modern art. Picasso never lived to see this, however. The painting was moved to his homeland on what would have been his 100th birthday, but he had passed away eight years earlier.
Munch’s ‘The Scream’ (1893-1910)
Edvard Munch’s most famous work is actually four pictures – two paintings and two pastel drawings – which have a varied history. Composition began when Munch was walking between a fjord and a city in his native Norway. In his diary, he wrote: “There was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city… and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”
Three of the paintings had a relatively simple existence, remaining in Oslo for much of their existence. The fourth – one of the pastels painted in 1895 – has a more interesting journey. It belonged to a private collector, Petter Olsen, who ended up hiding the picture in a hay loft in 1940 to protect it from the Nazi invasion of Norway.
This fourth version eventually sold for almost $120 million in 2012, remaining in private hands. This is the fourth-highest price any painting has reached at auction. The remaining three pictures, however, have not had a completely dull existence.
In 1994, two men broke into Oslo’s National Gallery and stole one of the versions of The Scream. They left a note saying “thanks for the poor security”, however, were tracked down a few months later and the painting was recovered, undamaged.
Another theft occurred in 2004, when a different version of The Scream – this one hanging in the Munch Museum in Oslo – was stolen by masked gunmen. It was not recovered until 2006, and it was thought it had been destroyed to hide evidence. Once found, it had been slightly damaged but nothing that could not be restored.
Veronese’s ‘The Wedding at Cana’ (1563)
Another enormous painting – it is 6.7 metres tall and nearly 10 metres wide – The Wedding at Cana has a long and varied history. Created in Venice, it was originally intended to decorate a new refectory at the Benedictine Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore. For this, Paolo Veronese was paid 324 ducats (around £45,000 in today’s money) and a barrel of wine.
It stayed in the basilica for over 200 years. However, on September 11th, 1797 soldiers in the armies of Napoleon took it as loot during one of the great general’s many campaigns in Italy. The canvas was so huge that in order to transport it, it had to be cut in half. It was re-stitched once it arrived in France, and kept in the ‘Musée Napoléon’; Napoleon’s personal art collection in the Louvre.
A peace treaty later that year included the stipulation that various looted artworks should be returned to Italy. However, Napoleon refused to send The Wedding at Cana, arguing that the giant canvas would be too fragile to survive the journey back to Venice from Paris.
However, various wars would mean the painting would go on several other journeys. First, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, it was placed in a box and sent to Brest for safekeeping. During World War Two, it was rolled up and again transported to other locations in France. It moved around the south of the country to avoid being looted by the Nazis.
In 1989, it was restored as much as possible by a team of artists. The painting had suffered a lot of damage in the many efforts to loot it and keep it out of the hands of others. It now hangs in the Louvre in Paris.