Picasso’s Guernica was commissioned for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition in July 1937. The vast painting – a protest at the Nazi bombing of the Basque town – was completed during May and early June. Henry Moore was one of a number of other artists – including Roland Penrose – who saw the work being painted.
Soon after its completion, a sequence of photographs of the work in progress was published in a special issue of Cahiers d’Art with reproductions of related drawings and smaller paintings.
In 1938, the painting and the studies were sent on tour as propaganda. Masterminded by Penrose, the exhibition opened in London, at the New Burlington Galleries, Mayfair, in October. The studies travelled on to Oxford and Leeds before being reunited with the painting at the Whitechapel Art Gallery where over 15,000 people visited in a fortnight. Its final display in Britain was in a car showroom in Manchester.
Quickly established as a key work of political expression, Guernica was the focus of a passionate debate between modernists and the advocates of realism as the true art of protest. It left an indelible mark on artists who saw it in Britain and in reproduction.