26 April 1937. This Monday, in the small town of Guernica, northern Spain, is a market day. But a few hours after the stalls had opened and the farmers challenged each other with their products’ freshness, the city burst in flames.
In the afternoon, joined German and Italian military air forces, in mutual efforts to propel Franco at the head of the country, heavily bombed the city. The Spanish Civil War (Guerra Civil) would last some other three years, but the tragic episode of Guernica remains one of the most biting memories from that time.
One reason for that is the famous, precious and eponymous painting by Pablo Picasso, Guernica, exhibited for the first time at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition: “It is not up to the painter to define the symbols”, Picasso replied when asked to explain his painting’s brutal, wild nature.
Indeed, he depicted the horrors of war and its ravaging madness with a mix of cubic inspirations, symbolic elements and misshapen forms, a recipe which granted him part of his worldwide praise. But another event got him at the forefront of the anti-war movement, which remains legendary to art amateurs as to others.
A few years later in occupied Paris (where Picasso had been living for quite a long time actually), Gestapo officers had made their way into the Spanish painter’s apartment. One of them cast a glance at a picture of Guernica left nearby. “Did you do that?” he asked.
“No,” Picasso famously answered, “you did.”