A Comparison of The Waste Land and Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”
The similarities are striking. This is probably due, in no small part, to the inspiration for both works. Picasso and Eliot shared a common inspiration for their masterpieces the atrocities of war. Guernica was a response by Picasso to the German Luftwaffe’s bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. During this 1937 attack hundreds of civilians were killed.
T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is similar to Guernica in this way. It was written as a commentary on the state of the world after WWII. Printed in 1922 it depicts more vividly the changes of the world after the war, rather than a specific moment during the war, as Picasso does.
Aside from the conditions, which lead to the creation of these works, they share a number of other common threads. Symbolism aside these works are very similar on the surface. Both are a collection of seemingly disjointed images, which when put together by the reader or observer serve up a strong social message. That messages being that the wars and conflicts of the times have twisted the world. This is reinforced by the contorted and misshapen images in both works.
There are a number of these images in the works. Many of Picasso’s are fairly evident the burning man in the right corner for example or the severed head on the bottom. These show the devastation of the world, as we know it. Eliot has recurring images not unlike these in The Waste Land. Eliot continually refers to the unnatural lack of water in the wasteland or the meaningless broken sex in the society of his day.
However neither of these artists would be as highly considered, as they are, if these were the only images in their works. Indeed, it is the ambiguity of these images that makes them so great. Picasso overlaid in Guernica the images of Harlequins. The largest is hidden behind the surface imagery and is crying a diamond tear for the victims of the bombing.
Another is the interesting set of images if found if the observer flips the painting over. Here in the left half of the painting there are two images, one of a puppet and an observer kneeling to view the show.