Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: David Seymour (Chim), Pablo Picasso in front of Guernica, Paris, 1937, gelatin silver print, printed 1982 David Seymour (Chim)
Pablo Picasso in front of Guernica, Paris, 1937
gelatin silver print, printed 1982
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Ben Shneiderman
© David Seymour Estate/Magnum Photos

Spanish Civil War

Pablo Picasso in front of Guernica, Paris

In late May 1937, during a brief hiatus from his war coverage, Chim collaborated with Henri Cartier-Bresson on an issue of Regards dedicated to the Paris World's Fair. Chim made this well-known portrait of Pablo Picasso standing before Guernica shortly after the painting was unveiled in the fair's Spanish Pavilion.

Picasso's anti-Franco screed was motivated by the Nazi air force's merciless pummeling of the Basque town of Guernica on April 26. Over the course of three hours, German planes dropped an unprecedented 100,000 pounds of high explosive and incendiary bombs that leveled the historic town and caused 1,600 civilian casualties. The usually apolitical Picasso made no bones about what lay behind his work during this period: "I am expressing my horror of the military caste which is now plunging Spain into an ocean of misery and death."

Chim's portrait depicts Picasso as both an artist and a Republican partisan. The composition projects Picasso into the painting and suggests the artist's identification with the immense, horror-stricken figure above him. Picasso's crossed arms underscore his defiance, as does the ominous shadow that falls across half his face.