Thousands of wreaths and bouquets arrived, but the gate of the Vauvernagues castle in France was only opened once, to receive a cross of roses whose ribbon bore a message: From Malaga, to Pablo Picasso, it said.
Paradoxically, the death in April 1973 of this genius artist, who was born in Malaga, marked the beginning of a return to his roots. It started with the opening of the Casa Natal, the house in the Plaza de la Merced where he was born, as a museum, and that also sowed the seed for the now world-famous Malaga Picasso Museum, which receives more visitors than any other.
A city which had only really been known as a tourist destination before has gradually become a capital of culture in its own right.
Now, both these museums will be playing a vital role in an international event to be held next year to mark 50 years since Picasso's death. It is called Celebración Picasso 1973-2023 and it has achieved something unprecedented in the art world by bringing together the governments of Spain and France to organise 50 exhibitions in Europe and the USA.
"2023 is an important year for us because as well as commemorating 50 years since the artist's death, we are celebrating 20 years of the Picasso Museum in Malaga and marking the major contribution it has made to the cultural transformation of the city," said José Lebrero, the artistic director of the MPM, as it is known.
His diary has two of the major events in this Picasso Year marked in red: one is an exhibition which will highlight the artist's love of sculpture and the other will explore his influence on art. Both of these will be at the MPM but there will be a third as well, about Picasso's early life in the Casa Natal, which also has an extra reason to celebrate next year as it will be marking 35 years since its creation.
"It will be its most ambitious exhibition so far", the director of the agency which manages the city's museums, José María Luna, told SUR, and his office is already working on parallel activities.
"We have asked the whole cultural sector to 'think Picasso' for 2023," he explained.
"Pablo could never have imagined that 50 years after his death he would have become the Malaga brand," said Lebrero. "We are in the city where he was born, a city which attracts people from all over the world and we are in the privileged position of being able to make him and his work even better known". And that is something we will do the same way the master did: through art.
The first major exhibition next year will open on 8 May at the MPM and it will feature the biggest collection ever in Spain of sculptures by Picasso.
For a long time these were never seen because he kept his pieces for himself and rarely sold any, but "his work revolutionised the concept of sculpture," explained Lebrero.
Under the name Picasso, Matter and Body, the exhibition explores shapes of the body through diverse materials including wood, bronze, iron, cement, steel and plaster. It was an experimentation that he embraced most evidently during his Cubist period, but was actually something he enjoyed all his life.
A month later, the Casa Natal museum will be holding an exhibition called 'The Ages of Pablo', a chronological and stylistic journey through the artist's works from his youth to his final days which he spent in the company of Jacqueline Roque.
"We are collaborating with other museums who will loan us some of their works," said José Luna. The exhibition will take place from June to October, and will showcase Picasso as a timeless artist of never-ending relevance.
As that exhibition comes to an end, the second one, at the MPM, begins on 1 October. "The Echo of Picasso"will be curated by French historian Eric Troncy and will reflect the way the painter inspired art after WW2, in terms of great artists like Antonio Saura and also by those of later generations.
"The exhibition will show how his work was echoed in very different forms and by artists of very different sensibilities," said Lebrero, who also remarked that beyond the break with Cubism, Picasso's main contribution to contemporary art was his freedom.
As well as these major exhibitions about Malaga's favourite son, the Picasso Museum will be organising a programme of complementary activities including some on the internet, and the Casa Natal will be updating its catalogue of works and including the portraits by Juan Gyenes, one of the very few photographers to whom Picasso would open the doors of his home and his studio. It will also be publishing books about its collection of ceramics by Picasso and the sketchbook the artist used as he prepared to paint "Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon".
Picasso loved Malaga and often included elements of it in his paintings. Malaga loves Picasso, too. And anybody who visits in 2023 will find it a very special place to be.