Museum Lifts Ban on Photographing Picasso’s “Guernica”

At the beginning of this month, Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía lifted its historic photography ban on Pablo Picasso’s anti-war painting “Guernica” (1937). The work, famous for its depictions of the traumatic horrors of the Spanish Civil War, has been continuously housed in the 20th-century art museum since 1992.

A museum spokesperson confirmed to Hyperallergic in a phone call that the institution has repealed its photography policy, which has been in place since it first acquired the work. The spokesperson added that it is “too soon” to tell how the public will respond to the rollback on image restrictions. The lift on the ban went into effect September 1, Euronews reported in August. According to the news outlet, the museum had previously prohibited photos to protect the painting from camera flashes as well as to prevent traffic jams and maintain the viewing experience for visitors.

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Responding to the April 1937 bombing of the Basque city of Guernica, Picasso painted the work for the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life in Paris, which took place that summer and fall. In barely a month and a half, Picasso completed the large-scale work after several modifications, in addition to at least 50 drawings and sketches, according to the museum’s interactive library, Rethinking Guernica: History and Conflict in the 20th Century, which compiles two years of extensive research on the painting and its history.

“Guernica” in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in 1956 (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

After the Paris Exposition closed in November 1937, “Guernica” toured several cities in Europe before traveling to the United States as part of an effort to raise funds for Spanish refugees. When World War II erupted in 1939, Picasso entrusted the painting to the Museum of Modern Art for safekeeping. The painting was on extended loan to the New York museum for 42 years until it finally returned to Spain in 1981, after Picasso’s death and the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. It was first housed in the Museo del Prado’s Casón del Buen Retiro before eventually moving to the Museo Reina Sofía.

Director Manuel Segade, who was appointed to lead the museum in June, told Euronews that it was his goal for the museum to reach “one hundred percent photographic accessibility, especially for a young audience that lives filtered by a screen.” According to the museum’s website, the only area that prohibited photography was Room 205, which houses the famous Picasso artwork, as well as composition studies and photo reports from the Paris Exposition.

While visitors are now free to take as many photos of the work as they want, they are still prohibited from using selfie sticks, stabilization devices or tripods, and flash photography, which are also not allowed in other areas of the museum unless indicated otherwise, per the museum’s Frequently Asked Questions.

It is worth noting that the Museo Reina Sofía has been criticized on past occasions for bending its strict no-photography policy in the instances of well-known celebrities Pierce Brosnan and Mick Jagger, who took selfies in front of the painting during visits to the museum in 2016 and 2022, respectively.

“[We] are constantly mediated by cameras, when we go to a concert, when we go to any cultural event,” Segade told Euronews. “We believe that it doesn’t make sense that ‘Guernica’ doesn’t have the same iconic character it deserves.”

Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger posted his 2022 trip to the museum, which immediately sparked criticism online. (screenshot Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic via @KebAbbas on X)


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