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Alcobendas, with the cross and the message 'Málaga a Pablo Picasso', in Vauvenargues. P. García Millán
'Malaga', the password to get into the château where Picasso was buried
50th anniversary of Picasso's death

'Malaga', the password to get into the château where Picasso was buried

Documentary. Two local filmmakers took flowers to Picasso's burial as a tribute from his home city, the only wreath allowed past the guards; their short film later told the story

Francisco Griñán

Thursday, 6 April 2023, 13:18

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The news travelled quickly down the wires that Sunday 8 April 1973: Picasso had died in Mougins (France). However before the information reached the headlines, in Malaga, Manuel Blasco, the painter's cousin, had already told Miguel Alcobendas, who couldn't hide his disappointment. Since the end of the 1960s he had been planning to make a film about the artist and even shoot it on the Côte d'Azur. Now he wouldn't be able to film the painter, but that was not going to stop him paying a visit to the Malaga-born artist's French home.

He called fellow camera operator Paco Ojeda and, each armed with their 16mm camera, they set off on a journey to bid farewell to the artist. The result was released in 1975 with the title Málaga y Picasso, a short documentary that looked critically at Picasso's relationship with his birthplace. It also revealed how the two filmmakers had delivered a tribute for the artist's coffin on behalf of his fellow 'Malagueños' in the form of a cross of roses and orchids.

The château in Vauvenargues where Picasso was buried in a snnowy April 1973.
The château in Vauvenargues where Picasso was buried in a snnowy April 1973. SUR

These were the only funeral flowers allowed within the walls of the Château of Vauvenargues, and all thanks to the words on the ribbon that proved to be the key to the doors of that impregnable fortress: 'Málaga a Pablo Picasso'.

However for Alcobendas and Ojeda it had not been an easy journey to the castle where Picasso was being buried. To begin with one of their passports had expired and there was no time to renew. However Alcobendas, who was also director of exhibitions and publications at the Malaga provincial council went to its then president, the current mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre, who intervened to help speed up the process with the authorities. And so that same Monday the two filmmakers flew to France.

Their first stop was Mougins, where they were greeted by rain and a closed gate at Picasso's house, keeping out the crowds of photographers and reporters who had gathered there as the news broke. However, this two-man delegation from Malaga was not going to be put off by the gendarmes at the door. Alcobendas and Ojeda went to the local florist and asked for Picasso's favourite flowers: pink roses and orchids. Instead of a traditional funeral wreath they ordered a cross.

"Miguel tried everything; he didn't let problems stop him and was going to do whatever it took to get through that door," said the director's widow, Pilar García Millán.

As she tells the story she points to a photograph of her husband, cross in hand, talking to an officer. His long coat not only protected him from the unexpected freezing weather, but also hid his Bolex camera with which he was hoping to film the burial.

Miguel Alcobendas talks to the officer who eventually accepted the flowers.
Miguel Alcobendas talks to the officer who eventually accepted the flowers.

The photo was taken the following day, Tuesday 10 April, at the gates of Picasso's château in Vauvenargues, 200 kilometres from Mougins, where the artist's body had been taken early that morning to evade the press. There, access was even more complicated. Alcobendas and Ojeda looked for the chief of police who told them that flowers were not being accepted, and even some of Picasso's close family had been turned away. However the pair insisted and the gendarme went inside to consult Picasso's widow, Jacqueline Roque, who he married in 1961.

Filming the documentary in Plaza de la Merced.
Filming the documentary in Plaza de la Merced. SUR

When the officer returned, he told them that Picasso's widow had said that if they had really been brought by people from Malaga, the flowers would be accepted. Alcobendas handed over his passport as proof and Jacqueline allowed in the cross. The next day the international press reported that the only floral tribute that reached Picasso was one from his home city.

Miguel Alcobendas had wanted to film the burial, explained his widow, but despite that frustration, "he came home with satisfaction, as the flowers from Malaga were the only ones accepted".

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