The House of Bernarda Lorca

The House of Bernarda Lorca – Watercolor – 21 x 29 inches.

Two months before he was assassinated in 1936, Federico García Lorca finished writing his last play, “The House of Bernarda Alba.” It’s a drama of cruelty: a family of women imprisoned in their home in a village in Andalucia by Bernarda, the dominating matriarch of the family. Allegorically, the House was Spain itself. Like Janus, Lorca evoked the subjugation of women in the past and also prophesied what life in Spain would soon become for them, and for everyone else as well.

Who murdered the poet? Evidence points to official orders of right-wing military authorities under the command of General Francisco Franco. Franco’s forces had overthrown a liberal democracy in order to turn back the clock three hundred years to conservative, religious Spain. During Franco’s dictatorship, (1939 until his death in 1975) socialists, radicals, intellectuals, communists, free-thinkers, liberals, homosexuals, atheists, the insufficiently-pious and other “progressives” were murdered by the thousands. Since 2000 more than 735 mass graves, containing the remains of some 9,000 people, have been opened. Officially, 114,226 people are still missing. García Lorca’s body has never been found. Franco’s malignant ghost still haunts Spain.

This night scene was not painted in Andalucia during the Civil War, but on a street corner in Valencia more than fifty years later. Its subject is neither the dictator nor the poet, only a little girl, alone on her bicycle. She’s lost in a world of her own and not aware of the men with guns, at least not yet. Would it comfort us to hope that the men are marching on the street in order to protect her?

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One thought to “The House of Bernarda Lorca”

  1. How does the decrepit, the ominous, the detritus, but also innocence and threat end up being beautiful? You know, the word awesome these days has lost its essential meaning through overuse, but this painting has something to it that is awesome. It takes a second, because it’s not a theophany of clouds opening to show God in the moment, not that kind of awesomeness. Threat and innocence square up against each other, not in the moment like Goya’s “Los fusilimientos del 3 de mayo,” where certain death is about to happen. This painting is awesome because of its uncertain immanence. You describe the tension well in words, and the painting does it in a very visceral way. It is terrifying and beautiful at the same time.

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