May 31, 2003

EVEN THE FRENCH KNEW BETTER

Picasso in Paris: A Suspect, Never a Citizen (ALAN RIDING, 5/28/03, NY Times)
After his death in 1973, France honored Pablo Picasso with the museum that carries his name in Paris. Yet during his first four decades as a French resident, the Spanish-born Picasso was viewed with suspicion by the French police and intelligence services. When he sought French nationality in 1940, he was turned down on the ground that he was an anarchist with Communist tendencies.

The extent of French misgivings about Picasso's politics have just become known with the discovery of the artist's police files from 1901 to 1940. They were among millions of French documents seized by German occupation forces in 1940 and transferred to Berlin. After the defeat of Germany in 1945, they were taken to Moscow. Only since the collapse of the Soviet Union have they been gradually returned to France. [...]

On April 3, 1940, Picasso wrote to the minister of justice requesting naturalization. He was also required to swear he had no criminal record, to demonstrate he was up to date on his tax payments and to show the lease for his two apartments at 23 rue de la Boetie. He was then summoned for interrogation by the neighborhood's police commissioner, who in a report dated April 30, 1940, concluded: "Good information. Favorable recommendation."

But a separate report by the General Information Directorate, dated May 25, was hostile to Picasso. It recalled that Picasso was "identified as an anarchist" in 1905, and it noted acidly that in 1914 "he offered no service to our country during the war." It called him "a so-called modern artist," accused him of sending his wealth abroad and declared that "Picasso has retained extremist ideas evolving toward Communism." The report noted that Picasso sent money to the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, that he had recently been heard criticizing French institutions and praising Moscow and that he had told friends that he would bequeath his works to the Soviet Union, not France. The report said little had been learned from Picasso's neighbors. "Because of his arrogant and stuffy character, he is little known in his neighborhood," it added.

The report's conclusion is unsurprising: "As a result of all the information gathered, this foreigner has no qualification to obtain naturalization. Further, in the light of the above, he should be considered suspect from a national point of view." There is no evidence that Picasso was informed of the rejection of his request. Three weeks after the second report was completed, German troops entered Paris.

Mr. Daix and Mr. Israil write, "France lost a celebrated man whom it could have been proud to have included among its citizens." And the absurdity, they point out, is that this ruling was rooted in misinformation about Picasso's anarchic sympathies gathered by a police agent in 1901.

What is not known is whether France opened a fresh police file on Picasso after World War II, but on Oct. 5, 1944, just six weeks after the liberation of Paris, Picasso formally joined the French Communist Party.

"Proud to have included among its citizens"? He was a Stalinist and a particularly vile person. Even the French couldn't be proud of him. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2003 11:58 PM
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