Attempt to Evade Art Export Laws Stymied in French Port

In July, French customs agents seized a 1906 portrait painted by Picasso worth €26 million from a yacht docked in Corsica, foiling an apparent attempt to export the work to Switzerland. The Spanish government transferred the painting to Madrid, claiming the work as a national treasure.  The Spanish Court declared the work a cultural treasure of Spain in May, 2015, and barred it from leaving the country by refusing an export permit. The owner of the piece, Jaime Botín, a wealthy banker and public figure in Spain, has been fighting for its return, asserting the painting as his private property.

Botín had been attempting to transfer the work to London since 2012, when he made a formal request via Christie’s Iberia on behalf of Euroshipping Charter Company, Ltd., which Botín claimed is the technical owner of the work, though he is the largest shareholder. He also argued the work was under British law, as it was hanging in a yacht moored in the Valencia Royal Nautical Club under British flag. This request was subsequently denied. The Spanish cultural ministry based its decision on the fact that the work is a rare example of Picasso’s Gósol period and key to his later Cubist developments and the subsequent evolution of 20th century painting.

The case highlights the tension between the rights of art collectors over property they ostensibly own and the efforts of governments to protect national heritage. As Botín reported to the New York Times, “I am defending the rights of property owners.  This is my painting. This is not a painting of Spain. This is not a national treasure, and I can do what I want with this painting.” This tension has become particularly significant as other European countries, such as Germany and Ireland, have introduced amendments to cultural heritage laws to make it more difficult to sell artworks beyond state borders, impacting the value of such works in an international art market booming for the works of well-known artists, especially Picasso.

More via the New York Times and artnet news.

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