Produced by Griselda Murray Brown. Edited by Richard Topping. Picture research by Hilary Kirby and Roz Speirs. Pictures and footage from Museo Reina Sofia, Getty, AP, Reuters and Rex.
Picasso's Guernica, the most powerful anti-war statement in 20th century art. Painted in 1937 in response to the deliberate bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica by Nazi warplanes during the Spanish Civil War, it shows writhing, agonised figures trapped in the horror of the bombardment.
A mother clutches her baby. A soldier lies dead, partly dismembered. A bull and a horse, the artist's emblems of his native Spain, rage wounded across the giant canvas. Tongues are replaced by swords and screams of agony.
Picasso created the work for the Paris Expo of that year. He read the news of the Guernica atrocity in April and immediately set to work at a furious pace, finishing the enormous mural almost eight metres long in just five days. His palette of matte blacks, whites and grays not only conveys the bleak horror of his subject matter but echoes the news photos of the time, as well as the photographic work of his then lover Dora Maar, who documented the making of the work in a series of intense images.
Guernica was a rare piece of public art for Picasso, and after its display in Paris, it set off on an international tour, showing all over Europe, America, and elsewhere for many years in support of the artist's dream of a free and democratic Spain. Yet despite its specific subject matter, the work stands as a statement about all wars. So powerful is it that during the Vietnam War, it was defaced in New York's Museum of Modern Art by a protester.
A tapestry copy of Guernica hangs in the United Nations building in New York outside the room where the Security Council meets and forms the backdrop to many dignatory speeches. It's said that it was covered by a curtain for the announcement of the Iraq War by General Colin Powell in 2003. Whether or not that is true, it's surely the ultimate testament to the painting's power.
Picasso, who never returned to live in Spain after his self-imposed exile in 1934, stipulated in his will that Guernica should not go back to Spain until democratic rule was re-established in his homeland. Two years after his death in 1973, Franco himself died, and the mighty canvas found its final permanent home in Spain in 1981. Now an especially curated exhibition at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid exactly eight years after its creation, it seems as relevant as ever.