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Picasso painting seized on yacht taken to Madrid museum

AFP, Douane Française | A woman inspects Picasso's 'Head of a Young Woman' in Corsica during the painting's handover to Spain
3 min

A group of Spanish police, officials and art experts escorted a Picasso painting valued at €26.6 million to Spain on Tuesday after it was seized by French authorities in Corsica, but legal wrangling over the artwork is likely to continue.


The painting, which has been declared a “national treasure” in Spain, was flown to Madrid with a team that included Spanish military police, employees of the country’s culture ministry, an art restorer and an expert in packaging works of art from the Reina Sofia modern art museum.

Painted by Spanish-born Pablo Picasso in 1906, “Head of a Young Woman” was seized by French customs police on a yacht docked in Corsica last week, drawing attention to a running dispute between Spanish authorities and one of the country’s wealthiest men.

The work belongs to billionaire Jaime Botin, whose family founded and heads the powerful banking Santander Group. French customs agents seized the painting from a British-flagged vessel, also the property of Botin, halting what they said was an attempt to export it to Switzerland.

Botin has been unsuccessfully battling Spanish culture authorities for the right to ship the Picasso abroad since 2012, and its seizure one week ago seemed to indicate the wealthy businessman’s intention to ignore a court ruling that declared the work “unexportable” in May.

The painting will be held in the Reina Sofia museum until its status is clarified, Spain’s interior ministry said in a statement, adding that the masterpiece will not be on public display.

Legal wrangling

A Spanish court earlier this year sided with the country’s culture ministry, which has called the Picasso work a “national treasure”, unique in its kind in the country.

“[The painting] is one of the few created by the artist in the so-called Gosol period, in which Picasso was clearly influenced by ancient Iberian art,” judges wrote in their ruling, refusing Botin the right to send the “Head of a Young Woman” to London.

At the time Botin’s lawyers argued that the painting was out of the court’s legal jurisdiction, since it was onboard a British-registered ship docked in the Spanish port city of Valencia. Botin’s lawyers repeated the same argument when the art work was seized by French officials.

"The painting was painted abroad, it was purchased abroad and it has always been kept overseas. Therefore the painting cannot have been exported (from Spain), legally or illegally," lawyers said of the painting now being held at the national modern art museum.

One of the most famous artists of the 20th century, Picasso spent the bulk of his long life in France, dying there in 1973.


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