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Spain’s Prado probes if artwork was stolen by Franco’s regime

Madrid's El Prado Museum said Thursday it was investigating the provenance of 62 works in its collection to determine whether they were seized during Spain's civil war or the Franco dictatorship.

PRADO-MUSEUM-PAINTINGS
Among the works are paintings by 17th-century Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Younger, French painter Francois Boucher and impressionist-inspired Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla, according to the list. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

“The aim is to clear up any doubts about the origins and the context that brought about the entry (of an artwork) into the Prado’s collection,” said a statement from the museum.

If the law allowed, they would be returned to their legitimate owners, it added.

The Madrid-based museum had on Tuesday released a list of 25 works that “originated from seizures during the (1936-39) civil war”, publishing images of 22 of the paintings on its website.

By Thursday, the number of artworks confirmed as seizures rose to 62, most of them paintings.

Among the works are paintings by 17th-century Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Younger, French painter Francois Boucher and impressionist-inspired Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla, according to the list.

Most of the works were being held in storage, although five of them — one by Sorolla — have been on display at public museums in Girona, Granada and Malaga, RTVE public television said.

“The quality of the works is very diverse, there are some by well-known masters like Joaquín Sorolla, but also anonymous paintings whose ownership will probably never be known,” Andrés Ubeda, the Prado’s head of conservation and investigation, told public television on Wednesday.

Investigators will now try and establish why these works were seized, he said, indicating it was the first step in what would likely be a long process aimed at restoring the artworks to the families of the original owners.

“The seizures carried out by Franco’s government were aimed at taking away the legitimate possessions of their wartime enemies,” he said.

The Prado said it had set up a team to probe the provenance of works in its collection. It will publish its report in January.

“The Prado Museum has decided to formally open an investigation into the possibility that some of the works in its collection may have come from seizures during the civil war or during the Franco dictatorship,” which ended in 1975, it said on Tuesday.

All 25 works initially identified were “deposited in (the museum’s) collection by the Commission for the Defence of Artistic Heritage” set up by Francisco Franco during the civil war, the statement added.

Seventeen of those paintings were given to the museum between 1940-1942, while another six were initially transferred to Madrid’s Museo de Arte Moderno in 1942-43 and later acquired by the Prado, it said.

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CULTURE

‘Marlowe’ closes Spain’s San Sebastian film festival

Spain's prestigious San Sebastian film festival wrapped up on Saturday with the international premiere of "Marlowe" starring Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson.

'Marlowe' closes Spain's San Sebastian film festival

Based on John Banville’s novel “The Black Eyed Blonde”, the movie is set in 1930s Los Angeles.

Private eye Philip Marlowe — played by Neeson — is tasked with finding the missing ex-lover of Clare Cavendish, a beautiful heiress played by German-born actress Diane Kruger.

The character Marlowe has been played before by the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Elliott Gould, but Neeson said this pedigree didn’t phase him from taking part in the neo-noir thriller.

“Even though these wonderful actors have played it before, that didn’t intimidate me,” Neeson told a press conference in San Sebastian.

The film by Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan was screened out of competition at the 70th edition of the festival, which opened in San Sebastian in northern Spain on September 16.

“We don’t get to play those kind of characters very often anymore or those kind of films are not being made that often anymore,” said Kruger, known for films such as “Inglourious Basterds” and “Troy”.

“I knew Neil would give it a certain quirky twist and that he would cast it superbly,” said Neeson.

A total of 17 films are competing for the best award in the official selection, with the festival’s prizes to be announced at a ceremony late Saturday.

The festival is the fourth major European film gala of the year, following Cannes, Venice and Berlin.

It was originally intended to honour Spanish-language films but has established itself as a top showcase for new films.

The festival hosted the world premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s spy thriller “North by Northwest” in 1959 and Woody Allen’s “Melinda and Melinda” in 2004.

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