Tuesday, January 16, 14:55

Art and Money: Four Works by Pablo Picasso in Tate Modern

(This is a sample of research made by Luz Rodriguez. Intellectual property of any work that appears in this post belongs to her. Please, if you would like to make a comment or to order some work, contact me via the contact page. Thank you, Luz)

Money is not an aspect of art in theory, but it is inescapably an aspect of art in practice. John Berger wrote in 1965 ‘Picasso is now wealthier and more famous than any other artist who has ever lived. His wealth is incalculable. I will mention only one of his assets. He has a collection of several hundreds of his own oil paintings, kept from all periods of his life. This collection – on the bases of current prices – must be worth anything between five and twenty-five million pounds’. He had rejected the normal ways of selling his work through the Salons that was common procedure in his early youth. And he had as a living artist been paid sums that were normally only achieved posthumously, usually at auction.

Seated Female Nude 1909-10, Guitar, Newspaper, Wine-glass and bottle 1913, Still-life 1914 and the Three Dancers 1925 were the paintings I have chosen for this article. The Tate Britain and The Tate Modern Galleries observe the public record office rules of not enabling free public access to records, in general, until thirty years have elapsed. These four paintings were acquired by the Tate during the period 1933 to 1969.

Picasso and Money

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso’s first major dealer, has recounted the visit, in total silence, of a young man to his new gallery (28 rue Vignon) in Paris in 1907, a young man who returned again with a companion and did an equally silent tour of the gallery. Later, on the advice of his friend Wilhelm Uhde, Kahnweiler visited a studio at 13 rue Ravgnan to see a painting that had been described to him as ‘Assyrian and strange’. There, he recognised the artist Picasso as his silent young visitor, his companion as the dealer Ambroise Voillard and the painting as what was later known as the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Kahnweiler was appalled by the dilapidation of the studio and the extreme poverty in which Picasso was living there with Fernande Olivier and his dog Fricka. But Kahnweiler was overwhelmed by the painting and immediately bought work from Picasso – Picasso’s only customer at the time. This relieved Picasso a little from his financial anxieties. According to Kahnweiler, Picasso, Braque and Juan Gris, among others, were interested in working quietly, away from scandals, publicity or intellectual battles; their aim was to succeed. They had the inner certainty of what they were doing. They worked with absolute conviction.

Picasso’s attitude to money at the time, and perhaps throughout his life, could be summarised by his remark to Kanhweiler ‘What I want is to be able to live like a poor man with plenty of money’. This does seem to be how he lived his life.

The paintings

Of the four paintings, three of them were kept for a long time by Picasso himself: Guitar, Newspaper, Wine-glass and Bottle, 1913, was sold to Pierre Gaut during the Second World War; Still Life, 1914, given or sold to the poet Paul Eluard, presumably after the Exposition Surrealiste d’Objects at the Galerie Charles Ratton in May 1936; and The Three Dancers, 1925 was kept by Picasso until 1965 when he sold it directly to the Tate Gallery. In my opinion these three works represent key periods in the development of Picasso’s artistic life. He kept all the series of interrelated papiers colles, assigned  by Robert Rosenblum to the spring of 1913. They were the first papiers colles made by him. Also Picasso kept all the constructions made by him during 1912 and 1914, with the exception of this one given to Eluard at least 24 years after it was made, and a Guitar, of this same collection, given to the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1971, (49 years after they were made); all the others, until the catalogue of the Tate Gallery was published in 1981, were in the possession of the artist. The Three Dancers was with Picasso for 40 years.

From these three works, two of them, Still-life 1914 and The Three Dancers 1925, were the subject of conflict about … money. In each case The Tate, desperately anxious to enhance and improve the collection of important modern works, found itself in conflict with the government, the policies and the bureaucracy and economic stringencies of the time, particularly as represented by the treasury, the Excheque and Audit Department, and the Science and Education Department.

The Three Dancers, 1925

Money-wise, the purchase of this painting was, if not a casus belli, quite close to one. The entire long-thought-about, long-hoped-for, carefully and delicately negotiated project, largely done by Sir Ronald Penrose over a period of several years, came to what looked like fruition in 1965. This canvas was conceived half-way between Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Guernica. For the experts at The Tate, and for Picasso himself, this painting represented a significant change in style: and it was a large, important and much sought-after canvas. Penrose, the negotiator, asked why Picasso had not sold it before. Picasso: ‘Because I did not want to. I have been asked a hundred times to sell it by Americans, by Kahnweiler and many others but I have always refused. And what’s more this is the first time I have sold a picture direct to a Museum’.

The offered price was eighty thousand pounds. Picasso agreed, although the previous year one of his gouache paintings, of about two by three feet reached the price of £80,000. The problems arose because The Tate simply did not have that kind of money: it could reach it if it had an advance on its grant-in-aid for the first year plus its grant-in-aid for the second year plus various supportive funds. The whole project, financially, conflicted with the rule that the Tate was not allowed to assume income for the year ahead. There seems to have been a long and bitter battle about the funding of this purchase.

The project of buying this picture was, at the time, bold, imaginative and perhaps risky. They were committing all their purchasing power, for more than one year, to the acquisition of just one picture – admittedly a picture of great status and importance – and they probably knew that they were being naughty boys in doing so. They also knew that there was a risk that the whole matter might have to be agreed by parliament: and that that in turn would bring media attention, opposition, criticism, argument, all of which might put the entire transaction at risk. What they most wanted to do  was to keep the whole project under wraps until the painting was safely in England and the transaction complete.

In the end, they got away with it. The Treasury, ‘having regard to the general economic position and to the balance of payment difficulties which were particularly acute at that time’ eventually and, mercifully, caved in and allowed the purchase to be paid by instalments over two years.

Still-life 1914

Sir Roland Penrose bought this construction in 1938 from the poet Paul Eluard. For his own reasons he decided to sell it in 1969 and gave The Tate the first option. Sir Ronald had it independently valued at £34,000, which seemed to the Tate ‘extremely reasonable in relation to current Picasso prices and in view to the rarity of this work’, and the Tate accepted it. But, then, suddenly, the whole relatively recent matters of capital gains and capital gains tax reared its ugly head. It had not impinged upon buyers and sellers of works of art that this ‘horrible’ (the word used by Anthony Lousada, chairman of  The Tate trustees) tax might be afflicted upon their transactions. The Tate was really anxious to acquire this work because of its rarity and applied for a special grant of £16,000 (half the agreed price): which was turned down. This led to another series of bitter exchanges, concerning financial support, between The Tate and the government.

The Tate then commented not adversely but pointedly that the State had recently contributed £350,000 towards the purchase of The Leonardo Cartoon and a further sum, not specified, that was two and a half time The Tate annual spending allowance, towards the purchase of the ceiling by Tiepolo at The National Gallery.

One of the main worries of The Tate at that time was that significant works of modern art were coming to the market and The Tate simply did not have adequate resources: they knew nevertheless that these works would almost certainly find their way to American institutions and the opportunities would never arise again.

The Tate decided to go ahead with the purchase anyway – from its own funds. What happened was this: the system of granting The Tate an annual allowance quinquenially had been discontinued and The Tate had been told that they could apply for special grants when required. That grant would be considered on their merits. When their request was turned down they were furious to be told that they would have had to have used all their own buying funds before such requests would be considered.

Capital gains tax was not payable on works sold to national institutions, but would have been payable if the work had been sold to an outside buyer. It was a practice then for the capital gains that the seller had avoided to be deducted from the price he received – but a quarter of it would be added back to the seller as what was called a ‘sweetener’. In the case of Sir Roland’s construction (bought at 1939 at a low price) the capital gains was assessed, rather notionally, at 50/290. This was based on 50 months since the introduction of the tax and 290 months (from April 1945 which was the earliest date from which capital gains could be calculated). The gains came to £5,862, of which 30% would have been paid in tax. That came to £1,758.12s. A quarter of that, £440, brought Sir Roland’s price up to £32,682. Sir Roland argued that his alternative buyer, and American, would have given him a price of £33,760, and The Tate, recognising that they were getting a bargain, did a deal. Sir Roland gave up £760 to please The Tate and The Tate made the price up to £33,000. ‘Let us’, wrote Anthony Lousada, ‘do no more mathematics’.

Guitar, Newspaper, Wine-glass and Bottle, 1913

This is a papier colle with pen and ink on blue paper, slightly irregular in dimensions, 18 3/8×24 5/8 in (46.5×62.5). Art historians differ about its date -1912 or 1913 – and also about the title of the work: in the correspondence between The Tate and one of the mediators Princesse de Broglie, this work is called Glass, Bottle and Guitar, in the postcards sold by
The Tate: Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass and Newspaper 1913 and in the cataloge of 1981 Guitar, Newspaper, Wine-glass and Bottle 1913. I will use the title given by Ronald Alley when he wrote the catalogue.

The acquisiton of this work was a simple, straightforward transaction It was found for The Tate by the Princesse de Broglie, a friend of Sir John Rothenstein director of  The Tate at the time (1961). She had been told that The Tate was looking for a collage by Picasso of the years between 1911 and 1915. The asking price was US$30,000.

In Britain, it has been the tradition, when national institutions bought from citizens, to expect a sort of patriotic reduction from the asking price of 10%. sophisticated sellers were aware of this and The Tate, in particular, had by this time becomes sufficiently hardened to ask for it. They did the same with this purchase from a foreign seller, which the princess delicately conveyed to the seller. He reduced his price to US$28,000 (a reduction of 7%) which The Tate agreed to. The price was paid from The Picasso Purchase Fund and Grant-in-Aid through the Contemporary Art Establishment in Vaduz. The money was paid in Swiss Francs (Fr.s 120,960, about £9,900 at the time).

Seated Female Nude, 1909-10

This early Cubist work came with a long and complex provenance, which included the Kahnweiler gallery on two occassions, Wilhem Uhde, and Danish and Dutch owners before it was sold to The Tate by Galerie Pierre in Paris. The Galerie Pierre was in fact Pierre Loeb, whose asking price was Ff3,250,000. Since the acquisition took place in 1949, this rather fightening asking price can be reduced to size when it is recognised that it is expressed in Old Francs – a letter from Loeb on the 15th of September mentions that the rate of exchange was on that date Ff1,098 to the pound. There was some kind of delay in sending the painting. Loeb wrote again to explain: ‘Then came all that trouble with the change of money rates and the clearing office was closed for three days’. But the sum paid, drawn from the Knapping Fund amounted to £3,316,6s.6d.

This work is the only one of the four that was sold immediately after it was executed to the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. At that period Picasso had an oral arrangement (there was no need to draw up any contract, since no one else was buying from him any more) in which Picasso would supply all the ouevre produced exclusively to Kahnweiler for a certain sum, which would come regularly to him. Kahnweiler bought them very cheaply and sold very cheaply: the philosophy behind that is explained by Picasso’s belief that ‘In order for paintings to be sold at high prices, they must first have been sold very cheaply’. From a more practical point  of view, at that period Picasso and Kahnweiler were both unknown and trying to establish their names in the market.

It is admirable to what extend The Tate directors and trustees were willing to go in order to acquire valuable and key works of modern art, when they had so small budget compared with The National Gallery and so little sympathy and support from the government.

As for Picasso, Kahnweiler and other of his dealers and associates have all reported that, even if money was not his primary concern, he was always very shrewd in his dealings and his final status as ‘the wealthiest artist ever’ most be seen as conclusive evidence of it.

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