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The tricks of the Franco regime with the heritage: it plundered and delivered 8,000 works to institutions and friends

An investigation sheds light on the fate of works of art managed by the National Artistic Heritage Defense Service in the immediate postwar period.

During the Civil War and the first bars of the dictatorship, the largest diaspora of works of art in the history of Spain was recorded. As of April 1939, the Francoist authorities, through the National Artistic Heritage Defense Service (Sdpan), faced the task of managing the paintings and other assets seized and saved by agencies of the Second Republic, mainly the Junta of the Artistic Treasure. And what was your main decision? Deliver a large part of the works to museums, public bodies, the Church and individuals, although in many cases the owner was known.

That is the main conclusion drawn by Arturo Colorado Castellary, a professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, in his new research, Arte, botín de guerra (Cátedra). This volume, focused on analyzing Franco’s patrimonial policy – “comparable to the Nazi plunder of Jewish collections” – completes two others previously published by the author: Exodus and Exile of Art (Cátedra, 2008), on the massive departure of works artistic such as those in the Prado Museum after the outbreak of the Civil War; and Arte, revancha y propaganda (Cátedra, 2018), where he analyzes the instrumentalisation made by the new heritage regime during World War II – the “robbery of the Reds” was compared, for example, with the Napoleonic looting of the 19th century. .

In his study, the researcher has analyzed Sdpan’s management of some 17,000 works. More than half – 8,710 – went to other recipients who came to recognize them as their property when there are documents that reveal a different origin. This is the “fundamental and authentically revealing” aspect of an unprecedented investigation for the whole of the Spanish territory, says Colorado Castellary, adding that it has been able to unravel a certain logic with some cases: it sought to “promote those museums and institutions that they interested Franco’s cultural policy and, ultimately, rewarding friends.

One of the bloodiest episodes described in the book is the looting of works of art by republican politicians, military or intellectuals who ended up in prison, had to go into exile or died during the war. The most paradigmatic case is that of Pedro Rico, mayor of Madrid between 1931-1934 and at the beginning of the war, who had an important collection that was disseminated among different institutions, as if it were a war booty, from the Government Civil de las Palmas to the Museum of Modern Art.

The same happened with the collections of the Basque nationalist Ramón de la Sota, made up of 93 pieces —by first-rate artists such as Francisco de Goya, El Greco, Juan Carreño de Miranda or Luis de Morales—, some of which ended up hanging in offices. of Francoist hierarchies like the brother-in-law Ramón Serrano Suñer; that of the Jew Carlos Walter Heiss, who had an important set of Iberian ceramics and 182 gold coins from different periods delivered to the Archaeological Museum; or that of the marriage formed by the “red military chief” José Sicardo and Mariana Cardera, of 104 paintings among which were also several by Goya.

The investigation of Arturo Colorado Castellary has verified that in the Prado Museum, in the immediate postwar period, at least 14 works from the Sdpan funds entered, two of them – The Nativity and Adoration of the Magi, by Francisco and Rodrigo de Osona— with its clearly identified owner: Gonzalo Rodríguez. In addition, the collection of the main Spanish art gallery was enlarged with two other canvases from Pedro Rico’s set after stopping at the Museum of Modern Art in Madrid: Scene of majos and matchmaker and Asalto a la diligencia, works attributed to Eugenio Lucas Villaamil.

Gifts to the nobility

Museums and ministries were not the only benefactors of Franco’s plunder. The Church, one of the main pillars of the regime, was logically compensated for the multiple losses caused during the Civil War by “red barbarism” and episodes of iconoclasm. But also those temples that had not suffered any type of damage, such as the Silos monastery, in Burgos, an area that was in revolt from the first minute, which received between 1941 and 1944, at the request of the abbot, a delivery of 35 works including paintings, carvings , tapestries and pieces of goldwork from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, surpluses of a habitual practice of the Sdpan to try to identify the owners of the recovered works: public exhibitions.

However, for Arturo Colorado Castellary, who recognizes that his capacity for astonishment during the investigation has been put to the test many times, the most “unusual” chapter corresponds to the diversion of works from a private individual —or of unknown origin— that are they handed over to another individual who received them on numerous occasions assuring that they were his. It was the result of the “lax morality” that prevailed at that time, in the words of Luis Monreal y Tejada, commissioner of Sdpan in Barcelona, ​​summarized in this argument: “Actually this dresser is not mine, but it looks so much like it is equivalent and I can claim it to replace the one that was stolen from me. “

One of the exhibitions organized by Sdpan at the Retiro Exhibition Center.

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