Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso

On April 27th, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain.  Chosen for bombing practice by Hitler's burgeoning war machine, the hamlet is pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours.  Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings.  Guernica burns for three days.  Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.

Initial reaction to the painting is overwhelmingly critical.  The German fair guide calls Guernica "a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted."  It dismisses the mural as the dream of a madman.  Even the Soviets, who had sided with the Spanish government against Franco, react coolly.  Yet Picasso's tour de force would become one of this century's most unsettling indictments of war.

When asked to explain his symbolism, Picasso remarked, "It isn't up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words!  The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them."