A pavilion with two stories and a war

PARIS 1937

It was 1937 and the Spanish Civil War was already in full swing between the republic and the uprising army with the new fascist ideas that were beginning to enter Europe.

Pavilion courtyard

Staircase and upper floors

Detail of the interior staircase

On the occasion of the universal exhibition held in Paris from May 25 to November 25, Spain had been invited to participate and the Republic accepted it by proposing on the one hand to give a sample of the new artists and creatives who were beginning to succeed everywhere and on the other hand to use the exhibition as a platform to make visible the need for international aid that was needed to deal with fascist forces.

The pavilion designed by Josep Lluís Sert, with the help of Luís Lacasa, could not be inaugurated until July 12, given the difficulties suffered by the Republic to get the necessary funds for its construction.

On the day of the inauguration, there were several works on the war, and for the first time, you could see Picasso’s work «Guernica«, located at the entrance to the pavilion. That work provoked all sorts of reactions and controversy.

The pavilion and the Guernica

Another work that was presented was the one contributed by Joan Miró entitled «El segador«. This work was lost after the exhibition because it was painted on the wall. Only a black and white reproduction remains.

També hi eren exposades la «Font de Mercuri» d’Alexander Calder que actualment es troba la Fundació Miró, i «Cap de la Monstserrat cridant» de Julio González.


In the pavilion, there was a stage to present shows of Spanish folklore and different official acts.



It was at the invitation of Josep Lluís Sert and Picasso accepted. He asked him to create a mural for the pavilion of the Second Spanish Republic, located at the entrance. At that time Picasso, 52 years old, had already painted works clearly against the war and the leader Franco, such as the work «Sueño y mentira de Franco«, prints that in comic format denounced the fascist coup and the crimes of war. In less than two months he finished Guernica, a work that has made him go down in art history.

Sueño y mentira de Franco

The fact that marked the orientation of the great mural was that on 26 April 1937 the Condor Legion bombed Guernica at the request of Franco.

Some sources believe the mural began to be devised a few weeks earlier with the bombing of Durango, the first air raid to kill civilians and destroy entire villages. That was the starting point of the mural and Dora Maar photographed Picasso’s creative process. It was held between May and June 1937, and eventually occupied the Paris Pavilion.

MIRÓ – EL SEGADOR (Catalan peasants in revolt)

Miró was 43 years old when the civil war broke out. He was preparing an exhibition in Paris, and he was commissioned to build a work for the pavilion. This period of the civil war led him to paint reality as seen in the work «Still Life of the Shoe» and a self-portrait.

Natura morta del sabatot

Thus, as his position was favorable to the Republic he made the poster «Aidez Espagne» which in stamp format was used to raise funds for the Republic. He was also commissioned to make a mural for the pavilion.

This work «El segador (Pagés català en revolta)» was exhibited in Paris and because it was painted on the wall, it could not be recovered when the pavilion was demolished and only a few black and white photographs remain.

ALEXANDER CALDER – FONT DE MERCURI (The source of mercury)

Alexander Calder, an American sculptor, was the father of kinetic sculpture, where hanging wires created furniture.

He was the only foreign artist invited to participate in the pavilion, probably because of his good friendship with Joan Miró, and the recognition of the many American soldiers who went to the international brigade supporting the Republic.

Alexander Calder in his studio, at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.

As a tribute to the people of Almadén, from which sixty percent of the world’s mercury was extracted at the time, and severely punished by Franco’s troops, he made a mercury-driven sculpture «The source of mercury«. Mercury procured important sources of foreign exchange for the Republic.

The sculpture through communicating plates is making a continuous and repetitive movement, which taking advantage of the density of mercury and how it does not evaporate always makes the mechanism work. The sculpture is currently in the Miró Foundation in Barcelona.

JULIO GONZÁLEZ – Cap de Montserrat cridant (Cap de Montserrat shouting)

Julio González was the artist who belonged to the era of modernism. This sculptor at 1899 went to Paris with other Catalan artists and settled in France until his death. At the age of 61, he was commissioned to do a job for the pavilion.

The figure of the «Cap de la Montserrat shouting» appears as the title says shouting to express his horror at the barbarity of the war and the denunciation of repression.

González died before finishing it, but the expression of this head shows its capacity to transmit all the nightmare of a past and coming war. The work expresses the strength of a Catalan peasant who resists and does not resign herself to the winds of war.



On the occasion of the celebration of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, one of the areas that was remodeled was the Horta-Guinardó district.

In the area where the Olympic tennis courts would be, a site was chosen for the reconstruction of the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition.

The reconstruction was carried out by the Espinet / Ubach studio and Juan Miguel Hernández León. The reconstruction was completely reliable in the plans of Sert and Lacasa, adding an elevator and a large basement.

On July 19th. 1992, the pavilion was inaugurated by the Kings, on the anniversary of the Battle of Barcelona in 1936, when the citizens of Barcelona managed to bring down the fascist forces revolting against the Republic.

The pavilion has retained all the characteristics of the original, both inside and around, using the same materials.

An agreement was signed between the City Council and the University of Barcelona in 1994, and currently houses the CRAI (resource center for learning and research) of the University of Barcelona and the Josep María Figueras Library, which currently has more than 150,000 books, becoming an of the most important funds in the world on the Republic, civil war, Francoism, exile, and transition. The Figueras collection provided a large volume of Civil War posters, as well as a large documentary collection of Civil War books, newspapers, and magazines.

Although it was wanted to exhibit the Guernica during the Olympic Games it was not possible, and in 2002 a copy of the same size was installed as the original 8×3.5 meters prepared by the Reina Sofia museum, the current depository of the work.

Martí Plana / Pictures: Albert Loaso and historical sources

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