Photo by: Wikipedia Creative Commons
Artist Pablo Picasso
Year 1937
Medium Oil on canvas
Location Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid
Dimensions 137.4 in × 305.5 in
349 cm × 776 cm

Guernica is a painting by famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. It was painted as a reaction to the aerial bombing of Guernica, Spain by German and Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. The Spanish Republic, government of Spain, appointed Picasso to paint a large mural about the bombing to display at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.

Guernica shows the cataclysms of war as well as the anguish and destruction it inflicts upon people, especially innocent civilians. This painting has attained an enormous reputation over the years, and has become an everlasting reminder of the devastation of war, in addition to becoming an anti-war icon. After it was completed, Guernica was exhibited worldwide during a limited tour, receiving wide acclaim and becoming quite famous. The exposure assisted in bringing the Spanish Civil War to the world’s awareness.

The Painting – Summary Of Individual Components

The colors of Guernica are black, white, and grey. It is an oil painting on canvas, measuring 11 feet tall by 25.6 feet wide, and is on display at the Museo Reina Sofía (Spain’s national museum) in Madrid. The work of art was completed by Picasso in June, 1937 and depicts turmoil, people and animals suffering, with buildings in disarray – torn apart by violence and mayhem. Guernica can be summarized by its individual components as follows:

The encompassing scenario is set within a room where, in an empty part on the left, a wide-eyed bull looms above a woman grieving for a dead child she is holding.

The middle of the painting shows a horse falling over in pain, having been pierced by a spear or lance. It is essential to bear in mind that the gaping wound in the side of the horse is the primary focus of the artwork.

Two obscured visuals formed by the horse can be found in Guernica: first is human skull is superimposed on the body of the horse. Secondly, it appears that a bull is goring the horse from below. The head of the bull is formed largely by the front leg of the horse, which has its knee on the ground. The knee cap of the horse makes up the bull’s nose, and the bull’s horn jabs at the horse’s breast.

The tail of the bull is formed in the shape of flame and smoke appearing in the window at far left, produced by a lighter shade of grey bordering it.

Underneath the horse lies a dead mutilated soldier, the hand of his severed arm still grasping a broken sword, from which a flower springs up.

In the open palm of the dead soldier is a stigmata, symbolic of the sacrifices of Jesus Christ.

Above the head of the impaled horse is a light bulb which glares outward like an evil eye, it can also be likened to the single bulb hanging in a prison cell. Picasso may have also intended the symbolism of the bulb to be associated with the Spanish word for light bulb which is “bombilla”. This brings to mind the word “bomb”, which could symbolize the detrimental impact which technology can have on humanity.

Towards the upper right of the horse is a fearful female figure that appears to be watching the actions in front of her. She seems to have floated through a window into the room. Her floating arm is holding a flaming lamp and the lamp is very close to the bulb, symbolizing hope – and is in opposition to the light bulb.

Staggering in from the right, below the floating female figure, is a horror-struck woman who looks up vacantly into the glaring light bulb.

The tongues of the grieving woman, the bull, and the horse are shaped like daggers, which suggest screaming.

A bird, probably a dove, is perched on a shelf behind the bull and seems to be in panic.

On the far right of the painting, a person with arms extended in sheer terror is trapped by fire from below and above.

A shadowy wall that has an open door becomes the right end of the painting.


Interpretations of the symbolism of Guernica fluctuate extensively and contradict each other depending on the viewer. The list below echoes the most common interpretations and opinions of historians:

  • The form and bearing of the figures in Guernica convey protest.
  • The artist utilizes white, black, and grey paint to create a sorrowful atmosphere and convey suffering and disorder.
  • The flaming structures and crumbling walls do not merely communicate the devastation of Guernica, but reveal the harmful force of war.
  • The newspaper print used in the backdrop of the painting portrays how Picasso found out about the bombing.
  • The light bulb in the artwork symbolizes the sun.
  • The broken sword close to the base of the painting signifies the defeat of the people by their conquerors.

With Guernica, Picasso wanted to establish his identity and his strength as an artist when confronted with political authority and intolerable violence. But instead of being simply a political piece of art, Guernica ought to be viewed as Picasso’s statement on what art can in fact donate to the self-assertion that emancipates all humanity, and shields every person from overpowering forces like political crime, war, and death.

Guernica Displayed At The United Nations

A large tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica was exhibited in the United Nations building in New York City, towards the entry way of the Security Council chamber. The Guernica tapestry was commissioned in 1955 by Nelson Rockefeller, because Picasso declined to sell him the original artwork, and it was placed on loan to the UN by Rockefeller’s estate in 1985. The tapestry incorporates numerous shades of brown, and is less monochromatic in comparison to the original Guernica painting.

On March 17, 2009 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General, said the Guernica tapestry was relocated to a gallery in London prior to a substantial remodeling at the UN headquarters. The Guernica tapestry is the highlight piece for the reopening of the Whitechapel Gallery. It is found in the “Guernica Room” that had initially been an area of the old Whitechapel Library.

Marking its 75th anniversary in 2012, the original painting is scheduled to be photographically analyzed to determine if it is in need of any restoration or repair. Picasso’s iconic anti-war painting the Guernica is still displayed at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, and remains one of Picasso’s best loved and most recognized paintings.