The Spanish Republican Government saw in the International Exhibition of Paris of 1937 a great opportunity to seek accessions in its fight against the military uprising led by Franco. That is why the participation in its pavilion of great avant-garde artists, such as Pablo Picasso, was marked as a great objective. He accepted the assignment, for which he ended up collecting 200,000 francs, despite his "resistance" to "accepting any subsidy from the Embassy for the realization of the Guernica, since he donates this painting to the Spanish Republic ", explained the writer Max Aub on May 28, 1937 in a letter to Ambassador Luis Araquistáin. In it he said that he had managed to get the artist to accept a check of 150,000 francs; the other 50,000 had received them a few weeks before as an advance to cover expenses.
"Picasso was paid the Guernica, and very well for the time, but he did it because it came out of his soul, not for money ", says the art historian Josefina Álix, one of the people who has studied the episode the most, in reference to the recent declarations of writer Arturo Pérez -Reverte collected in this diary: "Picasso did not paint the Guernica for patriotism, but for a lot of money, "he said last Tuesday in Paris during the presentation of his latest novel, Sabotage.
And it is in the context of that work – "Outside the novel, I have nothing to say" – in which Pérez-Reverte framed yesterday, in a telephone conversation, his words. "That Picasso collected 200,000 francs for the Guernica and he did not set foot in Spain in the entire Civil War is a concrete, real fact, which I use in my novel, which is not about Picasso, but about a Francoist spy in whom Picasso comes out as secondary. I am a professional writer and I reserve the privilege -the fun privilege- of novelizing whatever I want. Not as the art historian that I am not, but as the novelist that I am. If someone makes this a political, ideological or artistic debate, I thank them for the publicity they give me, but I do not give a damn. Sabotage it's just a novel, "he said.
But in that game of fiction that looms reality, some historians -like the teacher of the Autonomous University of Madrid Nere Basabe, who posted on Twitter the letter of Aub to the thread of the words of the writer- believe that it should be made clear what is that say the studies and the specialists, especially when one is one of the most important pictures of the history of Spain, explains by telephone Basabe.
Thus, Álix begins explaining that Picasso accepted from the beginning the request that had been made to him in December 1936. The same one that reiterated to him in the first days of January 1937, in a visit to his workshop in Boetie Street, a delegation formed, among others, by the writers Max Aub, Juan Larrea and Louis Aragon, and the architects Luis Lacasa and Josep Lluis Sert, responsible for building the exhibition space. However, for months the artist did absolutely nothing – "or just a few notes" – because, immersed in his personal problems, he could not think of what to do.
Until the bombing of the town of Guernica by the Nazi aviation took place, an event that was followed by large demonstrations of rejection in Paris on May 1, 1937. "That same day he went to work on the mural," says Álix . And he did, he continues, "absolutely upset by the situation and the circumstances", without asking for any money to cover the important expenses that his work entailed; Apart from the paintings and the canvas, he had to rent a larger workshop to contain the enormous size of the work: 7.7 meters wide and 3.49 meters high.
Testimony of Max Aub
The pavilion's curator, José Gaos, mentions the 50,000 francs in advance in a letter in which he tells the President of the Republic, Juan Negrín, of the expenses of the preparations until May 21. He added that, in any case, that payment was not enough: "The mural painting made expressly for our pavilion must be acquired by the State and therefore it is up to the State to determine in what amount it considers appropriate to complete, as the price of this acquisition, the 50,000 francs that have been advanced, keeping in mind that until now Picasso has not been reimbursed in particular for the considerable costs of the execution of this painting and above all of the four sculptures made especially for the pavilion ".
And of the delivery of the other 150,000 francs, Max Aub, cultural delegate of the embassy, testifies in a letter of May 28. In it he announces to Araquistáin that he had managed to get the artist to accept, at least, "the expenses incurred in his work". And he continues: "I have issued him a check worth 150,000 French francs, for which he has signed the corresponding receipt. Although this sum has, rather, a symbolic character, given the priceless value of the canvas in question, it nevertheless represents practically an acquisition of it by the Republic ".
Araquistáin himself remembered that episode in a letter he sent to Picasso in 1953, in which he regrets the loss after his departure from the embassy of many documents. "Among them, the receipt that you signed to Max Aub for the amount that he gave to you – despite his resistance to not accepting it – as expenses incurred in the realization."
Although symbolic, 200,000 francs was a large sum: "Yes, it was money, although it is very difficult to explain how much it would be today," says Álix. A tool of the official page of statistics of the French Government says that they would be equivalent to about 11 million current euros. You can also give an idea about the total cost of the Spanish pavilion for the International Exhibition of Paris: two million francs, so that the payment to Picasso would have taken 10%. "It's a good amount, but you have to keep in mind that it's a bestial job, which makes the most important artist in the world. Logical is that it will be paid. But from there to say that he did it for money goes an abyss, "the historian concludes.
A crucial purchase
"I believe that in Picasso there was already a political commitment and, in addition, with the Republic", adds the historian of the UNED Genoveva Tusell, author, among others, of the book He Guernica recovered Picasso, Francoism and the arrival of the work in Spain (Chair, 2017) Tusell mentions the position of honorary director of the Museo de Prado – "Which he always remembered with pride" – and the tour that Guernica did after the Paris Exhibition to raise funds for the Republic in Great Britain and , later, in the United States, where the painting remained for decades until the Spanish government recovered it in 1981.
Tusell insists that in the process, the fact of having paid for the painting in his day was crucial, which came to give in some way the reason to those who tried so hard to formalize the purchase. Despite the loss of the receipts, Max Aub's letter, which records the delivery of a check and other documents – several expense sheets, for example – were enough to prove the property and to give, incidentally, the reason to those who tried so hard to formalize the purchase.
The UNED professor explains. In addition, how much of these papal documents were obtained thanks to the diplomat Rafael Fernández Quintanilla, appointed at the end of the seventies as ambassador in a special mission to recover the work of Picasso. Fernández Quintanilla knew the son of Luis Araquistáin, who kept the file of his father. After a complicated negotiation, the diplomat managed to get hold of this documentation that was ultimately crucial.