Spanish create a masterpiece by numbers

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BASQUES have long claimed that Picasso's most famous painting, Guernica, belongs not in Madrid but in the Basque town that gave the work its name. Now, the haunting masterpiece, which if propped against soccer goalposts would obscure the crossbar, can be put up at home by any Basque with enough space.

And enough patience and time. The Spanish cultural magazine Poesia (Poetry) has just published a special edition containing a pull-out, full-size, jigsaw-like, do-it-yourself Guernica in 532 pieces. It comes in a box that looks more like a board game, complete with numbered blueprint, the relevant pieces on glossy paper and a supplement telling you everything about the original.

The painting, which belongs to Madrid's Prado museum but was moved last year to the capital's Queen Sofia Museum of Modern Art, was completed by an angry Picasso in five frantic weeks in 1937 in Paris.

On 26 April of that year, Guernica, east of Bilbao, lay under a cloudless sky. Its 7,000 population had been swollen by 3,000 people displaced by the Spanish Civil War, but the conflict was only a distant concern to locals shopping at the weekly Monday market.

At 4pm, a pair of German planes appeared, dropping a dozen bombs that sent people fleeing from the market in panic. Then came waves of Junkers and Heinkels, dropping thousands of incendiary and other bombs for more than three and a half hours. They demolished most of the town, killing at least 1,600 people and wounding thousands more. Some planes picked off fleeing residents with machine guns. It was one of the most horrific acts of war up to that time.

Guernica was of no strategic or industrial importance. Its significance was that Basques had looked on it from time immemorial as their spiritual capital.

On 27 April the town was still smouldering. Hitler had apparently been happy to test his bombers while helping out Spain's 'nationalist' leader, Francisco Franco.

Picasso, not a Basque, was outraged when, in Paris, he read an eye-witness account and saw pictures of the devastation. On 1 May, as hundreds of thousands marched to the Bastille in Paris, he shut himself in his studio and scribbled a first sketch. Five weeks later, on 4 June, he had completed what was to be his most-renowned work.

The special edition of 'Poesia' is available from Editorial Gran Via, Gran Via 16, Madrid.

(Photograph omitted)