In 1937 the Spanish Civil War was at its height.
Republicans versus Nationalists.
The Republicans were supporters of the left wing, democratically elected government.
The Nationalists were the military forces who opposed the government, basically fascists.
The Republicans were a loose, disorganised coalition.
The Nationalists were organised, professional, ruthless.
They were supported by other fascist countries, like Nazi Germany.
They wanted to demonstrate their superiority over the Republican rabble.
This suited the Germans.
They were developing Blitzkrieg tactics for the coming war.
This would be good practice.
They picked a small Republican town for live target practice.
The German bombers met no resistance.
The Republicans didn’t even have an air force.
The Germans bombers could take their time.
It was market day in the town below.
First they dropped high explosive bombs: 250lbs and upwards.
These blew the gas mains and the water mains open.
Then the bombers carrying incendiaries came in.
They dropped thousands of firebombs.
The air was full of gas and there was no water to put out the fires.
The ruptured water mains saw to that.
No military targets were hit.
Most of the town was destroyed and hundreds of people killed.
The Nationalists thought that would be the end of it.
No one would care about a crumby little town.
But in Paris, a Spanish artist heard about the bombing and deaths.
He’d been commissioned to paint a huge mural for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair.
It was two months until his painting was revealed.
The painter was of course Picasso, and the painting was ‘Guernica’.
The entire world was coming to Paris for the World’s Fair.
They would see his painting of the bombing of Guernica and the butchery of women and children.
He would show the world what the fascists were like.
And he did.
After Paris, ‘Guernica’ went to: Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, London, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and finally New York.
Where it really influenced public opinion.
It showed America which side it should be on in World War Two.
‘Guernica’ is agreed to be the most powerful piece of anti-war art ever.
And when art changes opinion it becomes propaganda.
That’s when it’s really powerful.
When it’s not merely decorative, when it provokes action.
In 1968, the Nationalist junta asked for Picasso’s Guernica to be returned to Spain.
Picasso refused, he specified it was never to be seen in Spain until a democratically elected government was in power.
In 1978, Spain finally became a democracy.
In 1981, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ was returned to Spain.
In 1992 a gallery was specially built to display it, in Madrid, the capital of the new democratic Spain.
That isn’t just art.
That’s what advertising should be.