The world-famous Guernica is the jewel in the museum’s crown. It is an outstanding symbol of protest against barbarity.

It has been on show in this Spain since 1981, when Picasso’s posthumous request for it to be returned to Spain once democracy had been restored, was finally fulfilled. After the defeat of the Second Republic and the end of the Civil War, the painting had been sent around several countries, before being left on deposit in New York, where it was put on display and from where it was eventually returned to Madrid.

The origins of this artwork date back to 1937. Following the military coup the year before and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish government commissioned Pablo Picasso, who was the director of the Prado Museum at the time, to paint a work that would be hung at the World Exhibition in Paris, to show people what was going on in Spain and help gain support from Western democracies.

Picasso created a work that was to have a universal impact, inspired by one of the first ever bombings of civilian targets, in the Basque town of Guernica. The bombardment was carried out on market day by Nazi aeroplanes, who were allies of the rebel forces.

The figures in the painting are dramatically portrayed at the very moment a bomb exploded, and in the moments immediately afterwards. The destructive consequences are shown with almost childlike sincerity and crudeness, depicted in a range of white and grey against the deep black background.

On the left, underneath the bull, Picasso added a feature copied from classical art: a pietá, or woman holding the body of her son in her arms, in a heart-breaking cry of anguish and despair at the senseless cruelty of war.

Early 2012 saw the most extensive photographic screening of this painting until now. It will help to reveal the secrets of how it was painted and of Picasso’s creative process.

Hanging in the next room, you can now see some photographs taken at the time that Guernica was painted, along with some earlier works by Picasso which he adapted and reused in this work. Some of his preparatory sketches will also help you to follow his compositional process, starting with the initial idea, which contained a great many raised fists which can be seen to have completely disappeared in the final version.

(c) (R) 2012, MUSMon com S.L.