Largely considered Pablo Picasso's most famous work, Guernica has come to serve as a powerful antiwar statement with universal themes - suffering, death, fear, destruction, war - that make it universally relevant in the past, present and future.
The painting depicts the immediate aftermath of the 1937 bombing of Guernica, a small but historically important town in the heart of the Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of Spain's Franco-led Nationalist forces. The bombing, which lasted for over three hours, resulted in hundreds of dead and wounded civilizians and the utter devastation of the town. The brutality and destruction affected and enraged Picasso, who read about it and saw the pictures in the newspapers of Paris, where he was living. In fact, the painting recalls the idea of newspaper clippings with its monochromatic black, white and grays.
In his signature Cubist style, he deconstructs and reconstructs the figures in his Guernica painting, converting them into representations of emotions, of suffering, of desperation. The painting, which drew and continues to draw attention to the tragedies of war and to the terrors of fascism, quickly became famous around the world. After traveling the world, it made its temporary residence at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Picasso wanted the painting to eventually be returned to Spain, but only after democracy was reinstated. Dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975, two years after the death of Picasso, and the painting was returned to Spain in 1981. Guernica now makes its home in a large viewing room in Madrid's Reina Sofía Museum.
At the Reina Sofía you can also view numerous sketches done by Picasso before deciding upon the final composition of the masterpiece; these sketches are a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse at Picasso's creative process and understand how the final Guernica came into being.