Genoveva Tusell

The recuperation of Guernica. From the Franco period to the transition

Thursday April 27 – Session 04 @ COAC

The arrival of Guernica, painted by Picasso in 1937 for the Spanish pavilion of the International Exposition of Paris, was of major significance for Spain during the transition.  It supposed the end of a very long process that went from the hatching of the idea for the painting to the negotiation of its move to Spain, taking on a transcendental importance from the point of view of the recuperation of our artistic heritage and with regard to the transition to democracy.  Although Guernica is not the only commissioned work of considerable size produced by Picasso, it is however the only one that was in some way commissioned by the Spanish state.

One aspect that is practically unknown and ignored is the relation that Picasso had with the Spanish administration, before and after Guernica, and about which it has been insistently speculated but with little foundation and documentation.  In the mid-1950s, when Picasso was widely considered to be the most important artist in the world, for the Franco regime he was considered a public enemy and that only with time would his artistic significance be accepted.  After a number of years, a certain normalization in his relations took place, provided that the artist didn’t express in a clear way his political attitude against the regime.  The first attempt to recuperate Guernica dates back to1968, Franco entrusted the efforts to the Vice President of the Government Carrero Blanco and the Director General of Fine Arts Florentino Pérez Embid. These efforts were necessarily doomed to failure, but had the merit of getting an already irreversible definition of the will of Picasso regarding his most famous painting.  In November 1970, the artist signed a document in which he stated his will for the work to return to Spain when the democratic liberties were reestablished.

That was not the moment for its return, which would still have to wait until September 1981.  The first negotiations in the Spanish transition were carried out by the lawyer José Mario Armero, who was the first to go to the authorities of the MoMA and the lawyer of Picasso Roland Dumas. Until the approval of the Spanish constitution in 1978, the possibilities of bringing back the painting were relatively small, but the proximity of the centenary of the painter also increased the possibility of the move.  Thanks to the documentation produced during the negotiations, and we understand that they were not simple in any way, they not only involved those in charge of the New York museum, but also the lawyer and the heirs of Picasso, who exercised a “moral right” to the work.  The recuperation was on the point of failing on various occasions, especially with the attempted coup of 23rd February 1981, given that the Spanish administration had to show, as Picasso had established, the existence of a real democracy in our country.  In the cultural aspect and to a certain extent the political one too, the arrival of Guernica signified a final point in the transition to democracy.

Genoveva Tusell

Associate Professor. PhD , Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid

Genoveva Tusell is Associate professor of the Department of Art History of the UNED, National Distance Education University and Doctor in Art History.  Her research work has dealt with Spanish abstract art during Franco’s regime and its international projection.  She has carried out studies about the relations of Picasso and Franco’s regime, as well as the legacy of Guernica in Spain.  She is currently leading the Research Project The political dimension of Pablo Picasso: communist militancy and opposition to Franco’s regime funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Among her publications about Picasso it is worth highlighting Picasso, a political enemy of Francoist Spain (Burlington Magazine) and the book The recuperation of Guernica that will be published by Ed. Cátedra in 2017.

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