In 1937 the German Luftwaffe, assisted by the Italian Fascist Aviazone Legionora, bombed the Basque town of Guernica in Spain, a focal point of Basque culture and an area of Republican sympathy during the Spanish Civil War. The attacks took place on a Monday when most of the population was at the markets. After 8 waves of carpet bombing raids, a forerunner to the later German blitzkrieg, planes strafed the roads in and out of the town.
Picasso had been commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to create a mural for the Paris International Exposition at the World’s Fair, to be held in Paris in 1937. On becoming aware of the tragedy of Guernica he immediately abandoned what he had been working on without enthusiasm for months, instead painting Guernica, an oil in black, white and grey, on canvas. Its images are stark, horrific, poignant.
During World War 2, Picasso remained in Paris. He did not exhibit, his artistic style being frowned upon by the Nazis. He nonetheless continued to paint despite being continually harassed by the Gestapo. A Gestapo officer, having observed a photograph of Guernica in Picasso’s apartment, asked Picasso with disgust “Did you do that?” “No,” responded Picasso, “you did.”