Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in Malaga, Spain. He first went to Paris, France, in 1900, at the age of 19. In 1904, he settled definitively in France; he would only go back to Spain for short stays until Franco came to power in 1939. From that moment on, he refused to return to his country of birth for political reasons. In 1940, Picasso applied to the Ministry of Justice to become a French citizen by naturalisation: he was no doubt afraid of the alliance between Francoist Spain and Germany, which would have made him a national of an enemy country. His application was turned down; he would remain Spanish until his death, never becoming French.
These brief factual and administrative bibliographic details do not permit any possible challenge: Picasso, the man, was born Spanish and remained Spanish for his entire life. But, what about his work? Can a nationality be attached to a piece? It was after discovering the existence of an exhibition organised by the French State in Saigon called “Exposition de peinture française de David à Picasso” that I began to wonder how Picasso had come to be included within French painting, and how the very big question of his nationality fitted into his past and present historiography.
By means of a review of numerous exhibitions and many texts written by art critics and historians, in the course of this intervention I would like to present and analyse how Picasso’s work (and sometimes his personality) is interpreted and used in a national or nationalistic manner in both the French and the Spanish contexts, often for political ends. The notion of identity, the topic of this congress, will therefore be addressed and dissected in the course of this intervention from the perspective of that issue of national identity and of how it might have interacted and played a role in the artistic – and even political – critical reception of Pablo Picasso’s work.