According to John Richardson, at least, Pablo Picasso was in serious discussions with the fascist Franco government to have an exhibition in Spain. I don’t know if an artist agreeing to an exhibition of his work in his own country would really destroy his reputation as Mr. Richardson asserts, but I wasn’t alive at the time. Maybe it would have, maybe it wouldn’t.
Picasso was a steadfast communist, a tireless peace campaigner, and he loathed the fascists – depicting General Franco with witty brutality in works such as The Dream and Lie of Franco (1937).
But the Picasso who consorted with Soviet officials, who was photographed examining pictures of Stalin, who received telegrams from Fidel Castro, is only part of the story.
According to John Richardson, the biographer of the artist who knew him from the 1940s to the 1960s, the Spaniard secretly undertook negotiations with Franco’s representatives in 1956.
Richardson and his collaborator, art historian Gijs van Hensbergen, have discovered that the Spanish art critic José María Moreno Galván was dispatched to the Côte d’Azur, where Picasso was living, in order to open talks about holding a retrospective for the artist in Madrid.
The critic reported back to the Spanish cultural attaché in Paris, José Luis Messía, who responded: “What a pity García Lorca [poet, dramatist and theatre director] isn’t alive, we could have killed two birds with one stone.”
The point was that had Picasso accepted the proposals it would have been a major coup for the Falangists, “destroying Picasso’s status as a hero of the left; he would have been regarded as a traitor to the left for going back to Spain”, according to Richardson.
As it happened the negotiations – which, had they continued, would have been conducted by Messía and involved the director of the Madrid Museo de Arte Contemporáneo – ground to a halt because they were leaked to the press.
The talks were conducted on a basis of secrecy and the Spanish minister of foreign affairs had decreed that if the news leaked the whole affair would be denied, according to van Hensbergen.
But they were sufficiently far advanced and known among a small circle for a concerned group of Spanish notables to send a letter to Picasso entreating him not to be tempted by the proposal – as recorded by Jean Cocteau in his diary.
According to Richardson and van Hensbergen, who are working together on the fourth volume of Richardson’s biography of Picasso, the point is that Picasso’s views were “10 times more subtle than you can imagine … nothing about his views were black-and-white; the history of this period is a history of grey areas”.
(click to continue reading Picasso nearly risked his reputation for Franco exhibition | Art and design | The Guardian.)
I’m suspicious of people who have views simply of black and white1, without subtlety; the world is complex, people’s minds should be flexible enough to parse nuance.Footnotes:
- George W. Bush, remember him?? [↩]