Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937 Mural: Oil on canvas, 3.5 x 7.8 m (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid)

On April 26, 1937, German Luftwaffe bombed the town of Guernica, leaving up to 1,600 dead and hundreds wounded. Picasso while living in Paris, he first knew about the Nazi bombing of Guernica from a newspaper article. This disturbing news from his country affected him deeply. His reaction to this barbarous act was by painting “Guernica”. This work is the largest and most powerful of works of Picasso that he has accomplished in his life. The iconic “Guernica” has since become the symbol of anti-war art in the world.

The Guernica painting epitomises a philosophical concept of a special kind that defines the political elemental factors behind it. It shows the extent of Picasso’s mastery of artistic devices and the utilisation of black and white colours with varying shades of grey to illustrate the depth of the tragedy of war, death and destruction.

The innovative brilliance of Picasso’s Guernica made it endure the test of time and to be elevated from an Artwork that documents a local event into an international symbol of condemnation of war and its tragic consequences. Many years after Picasso created Guernica, we see its presence over and over in the anti-war movements, conveying messages to the world. Most notably, during the period leading up to the war in Iraq and in particular during the 2003 United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, when American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was arguing his case for going to war against Iraq. A version of The Guernica was hanging at the entrance of the Security Council room where he was due to address the delegates. The UN officials had to conceal the Guernica beneath a blue curtain, to ensure that it would not be visible to the TV cameras that would broadcast the meeting to millions of viewers around the world. The idea of having a replica of “Guernica” in the background, which is an anti-war painting, would have made Colin Powell, efforts to convince the world of going to a war in Iraq quite a difficult task.


Gardenia White