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'Head of a Young Woman' was seized from a yacht in Corsica
14.08.15 - 13:28 -
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Multiple claims to a Picasso may end in Madrid success
‘Head of a Young Woman’ is worth 25 million euros. :: EFE
A dispute over the destination of a 25 million euro Picasso seems likely to end in favour of the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, although it is being fiercely contested by its owner, Spanish banker Jaime Botín. Another contestant in the dispute is the Picasso Museum in Malaga, though the odds are mounting against this end to a tangled story.
Jaime Botín had been applying for permission to export ‘Head of a Young Woman’ from Spain to London, presumably in order to sell it, for the past three years. In December 2012, the auction house Christie’s asked the Culture Ministry, on the owner’s behalf, for a licence to export it. However the application was turned down, with the argument that there is no other artwork like it on Spanish soil and as such, it is a part of Spain’s heritage and cannot leave the country. Botín appealed, but unsuccessfully. Under no circumstances could the painting leave the country due to its “exceptional importance”. Dating back to 1906, it is one of the few works of the Malaga-born artist created during his Gósol period. “It is clearly influenced by Iberian sculpture and modelling” say the experts, and a decisive work in the history of cubism, making it a “national treasure”.
The Unidad Central Operativa (UCO) of the Guardia Civil has been following the whereabouts of ‘Head of a Young Woman’ since May. The painting belongs to 79 year old Jaime Botín, ex-president of Bankinter and brother of the late president of the Santander Bank, Emilio Botín. The UCO asked after the whereabouts of the painting, which had been acquired by its current owner in 1977 from the Marlborough Gallery, London.
On July 31st, on a tip-off from their Spanish colleagues, French police boarded the ‘Adix’ in the harbour at Calvi, on the island of Corsica. There they found the ‘Head of a Young Woman’ apparently being prepared to be airlifted to Switzerland. The Picasso masterpiece was seized by the French Customs and Imports authority at the request of Spain’s ‘Audiencia Nacional’ (National Court).
Botín’s argument: it’s British
Jaime Botín’s lawyers are maintaining that the painting, bought in 1977 in London, is not Spanish but is in fact British and therefore not subject to Spanish law. “For years” they say, “it has been permanently aboard a British registered vessel, which places it on foreign territory even when moored in a Spanish port”. They answer accusations that the painting was illegally exported from Spain by claiming that it “was painted on foreign soil, was bought on foreign soil and has been permanently domiciled abroad ... so it could not have been exported, either legally or illegally.”
However, “if they say that the painting was bought abroad and that is its proper home, then why did Botín ask for permission to expoert the Picasso? He is completely contradicting himself,” says professor of Constitutional Law, Javier García Fernández, adding: “From the moment you ask for authorization to export something from Spain, it is refused, and you go to court, you are admitting that it belongs to Spain”.
Malaga’s claim
When the story of Botín’s painting was made public last week, there were those in Malaga who hoped that its final destination might be the city’s Picasso Museum. These hopes, which now seem flimsy, were based on the provenance of two works by Picasso which have been held by the museum since February 2007. ‘Retrato de Olga’ and ‘Retrato de Paulo con cuello blanco’ were placed in the Malaga museum by the Ministry of Culture, which had acquired them from Unicaja,(which had bought them from the artist’s stepdaughter Christine Hutin) as part of a tax payment. The reasoning went that if, by virtue of a Spanish law which says that illegally exported goods which form part of the Spanish heritage become the property of the state, ‘Head of a Young Woman’ is permanently confiscated from Botín, Malaga may again be the beneficiary.
On Tuesday this week the painting arrived in Madrid, and will remain in storage until a judge decides whether it should be returned to Botín or become the property of the state. It is being seen as significant, however, that the chosen storage place should be the Reina Sofía Museum rather than the Prado - or indeed the secret deposits belonging to the Guardia Civil, where it could be kept equally securely. The deciding factor as to which of Madrid’s two museums houses any particular art work lies in the year the artist was born. From 1881 - birthdate of the Malaga-born artist - the destination is the Reina Sofía, which already has 31 Picassos, including one of his most famous pieces ‘Guernica’ painted in 1937.