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Saturday, May 17, 2003
crack Picasso's veneer of
By Philip Delves
SPANISH to the day he
died was how Pablo Picasso wanted
people to remember him. Not Franco,
not two world wars, not even 70 years
living in France could sap him of his
But police documents newly unearthed in
Paris suggest that Picasso was not quite
the raging patriot that he seemed. In
1940, months before the Germans entered
Paris, he applied for French citizenship
and was denied it, a fact previously
unknown to his biographers.
The documents have taken a circuitous
route into the public domain. They were
seized, along with thousands of others, by
the Germans during the Second World War.
They were moved to Silesia where the
Russians took them.
France regained them in 2000, but only
after long negotiations with the
post-communist governments and some hefty
cheques. Now Picasso scholars have got
their hands on the extensive files kept by
the French police on the artist.
From the moment Picasso arrived in
Paris in May 1901, the French had their
eye on him, wary of his anarchist
sympathies and bohemian lifestyle.
Informers were placed among the opium- and
absinthe-dulled crowd at the Lapin Agile
That most Parisian of spies, the
concierge, was paid to keep an eye on
Picasso when he lived in Montmartre.
She told the police of his "very
irregular comings and goings" and that
some nights he did not come home at all.
She said she had never heard him "offering
subversive opinions" but the police still
reported that he should be considered an
anarchist by association with known
subversives, such as the Spanish art
dealer Pierre Manach.
Inspector Clouseau touches to the
monitoring of Picasso. In 1907, the
year he painted Les Demoiselles
d'Avignon, the police added
"Avignon?" to the list of places they
thought he had visited. In fact he did
not go there that year.
There is no indication that Picasso had
any idea that he was being watched. He
stayed in France, obtained residency
papers and married Olga Khokhlova
in 1918. He supported the Republicans in
the Spanish Civil War and Franco's victory
barred him from returning home.
Pierre Daix, Picasso's friend
who has assembled the new documents,
believes that it was this feeling of exile
which prompted him to write to the justice
minister requesting French citizenship. He
worried that if Spain did not make an
alliance with Nazi Germany and France did,
he would be sent to a camp by the
Two reports were compiled on Picasso's
application. The Paris police questioned
him and found that he fulfilled the
criteria for citizenship, including
possessing "professional skills which will
make a positive contribution to
But the secret police were more
damning, calling him a "so-called modern
painter who has put his money abroad".
They told of his "extremist ideas evolving
towards communism". Their report
criticised him for "rendering no service"
during the First World War.
It said Picasso had told friends that
when he died he wanted his collection to
go to the Soviet rather than French
government, noting acidly that this seemed
"a special way of thanking the country
which has allowed him an extraordinary
life, which would certainly have never
been allowed him in Spain".
It concludes that Picasso had prints of
hammers and sickles on the walls of his
studio and should be considered "suspect
from the national point of view".
The report scuppered his chances. But
after the Germans reached Paris later that
year, Picasso renewed his residency papers
and stayed throughout the Occupation.
Picasso never mentioned his application
for French citizenship and never gave up
his Spanish citizenship. But when he died
in 1973, the French state which had turned
him down came calling for inheritance tax,
and now has the wonderful Picasso Museum
in Paris to show for it.©
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