Picasso had studied dramatic photographs of bombing published in various periodicals. Despite that, neither the studies nor the finished picture contain a single allusion to a specific event, constituting instead a generic plea against the barbarity and terror of war. The scene depicted in Guernica is a room full of moving, screaming and dying adults, children and animals. Most of the individual images are also symbols: a bull (virility of man), a woman with a dead child (pieta image), a horse (innocent people), a dead soldier with stigmata (martyrdom), a blazing light (bombs), a prison cell (torture), a dove (peace).
Guernica is painted in monochrome, using a palette of grey, black, and white. Perhaps Picasso wanted to give his painting a veneer of photojournalistic realism; or maybe the bleak, night-time colour scheme complemented the jagged shapes and terror-stricken faces, and added to the sense of panic and terror. In any event, the lack of colour gives added impact to the flattened Cubist forms, and adds to the drama of the work by allowing Picasso to highlight key faces and objects in white. This painting is undoubtedly modern art's most famous response to war, and an international symbol of genocide committed during wartime.