Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil WarConscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War

Amongst the Ruins: Guernica and the Threat of Bombing

The bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April 1937 by the German Condor Legion on behalf of Franco's Nationalist forces led the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso to paint his iconic painting 'Guernica' within a few weeks of the atrocity. Without doubt the most famous artwork to emerge from the Spanish Civil War, it was exhibited first at the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition from July 1937, where it was visited by many British artists, and subsequently exhibited with the preparatory studies at the New Burlington Galleries in London in October 1938, and at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in January 1939 and then a car showroom in Manchester. The British exhibition was in aid of the Joint Committee for Spanish Aid and was organised by the Surrealist artist Roland Penrose, who had purchased the visceral 'Weeping Woman' directly from Picasso.

Picasso's powerful depiction of the terror of war provoked much discussion and had a profound influence on the imagery of British artists such as paintings by Merlyn Evans and sculptures by F.E. McWilliam and Henry Moore. The bombing of civilians in Spanish cities caused considerable concern amongst many in Britain. The artist John Armstrong depicted the ruins of bombed domestic buildings,  whilst in 1937 the German émigré Walter Nessler expressed his fears about  the bombing of London in his painting ‘Premonition’. These fears about aerial bombardment also led to the increased activities by the Air Raid Precaution organization (ARP) in the lead-up to the Second World War.