Posted Saturday, May 17, 2003

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London, Saturday, May 17, 2003


Files crack Picasso's veneer of patriotism

By Philip Delves Broughton


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 Catalan spirit.

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 cabaret.

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.

There are 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 Germans.

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 society".

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.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.

Related file:

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