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.

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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How did the rumour start that Walt Disney was born in Spain’s Mojácar?

Has someone ever told you that Walt Disney was born in the southern Spanish town of Mojácar? Despite the fact that you'll see Chicago in the US as his birthplace in biographies, many people still believe he was born in Spain.

How did the rumour start that Walt Disney was born in Spain’s Mojácar?

The small whitewashed hilltop town of Mojácar lies just above the vast and otherworldly Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park in the province of Almería. 

According to rumours, it is here that the celebrated American animator and film producer, beloved by children all over the world, was born. 

The rumour stems from 1940 when three men dressed in suits visited the town, claiming to be representatives of Walt Disney Studios.

The three men told the town authorities that they were looking for the birth certificate of a man named José Guirao Zamora, who was born in the municipality of Almería in 1901.

When the authorities questioned them as to why they wanted this, they claimed that José and Walt Disney were the same person.  

According to the Almería Provincial Council and the Mojaquero City Council, the three men spent several days investigating and searching through the municipal archives, looking for the certificate.

With the help of records and village gossip, the story continues that they discovered that José Guirao Zamora was the illegitimate son of local washerwoman Isabel Zamora and Gines Carrillo, a nobleman and doctor.  

Isabel supposedly moved with the baby to America to live with her brother in Chicago, where she had a brother.  

For some reason or another, here the story is not so clear – she abandoned him and left him in the care of some neighbours – Elías and Flora Disney, who ultimately adopted him as their own.  

Could cartoonist Walt Disney have been born in Spain? Photo: AFP

Elías and Flora Disney are of course widely known to be Walt Disney’s parents. The well-known and widely accepted version of events is that he was born to Elías and Flora in Chicago and while he was still an infant, they moved to a farm in Missouri. They all later moved back to Chicago in 1917 when Disney attended high school.  

But this is not the whole story. One of the most curious and compelling pieces of evidence that biographers found was actually in Chicago and not in Mojácar.

It is said that no record of Walt Disney’s birth exists in Chicago and that he did not actually officially exist until June 8th 1902, when he was baptised. But this is more than a year after his birthdate which is said to be in December 1901. The Disneys are said to have only told the local priest that he had been born on December 5th 1901, but had no proof. 

Disney himself found this out when he tried to join the Red Cross during the First World War and had no birth certificate to prove his age. In the end, had to enlist the help of President Hoover to get special permission to join.  

More evidence of the theory is said to have come from Walt Disney himself. Apparently, Disney told the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí that he had been born in Almería. And when a Disney animator who had heard the rumours asked Disney if he had really been born in Spain, he simply answered “Who knows?”.

Many historians and biographers have also alluded to Disney’s Spanish connection, including the biographer Marc Eliot in his book Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince.

Of course, the Disney family, as well as many experts today completely refute this claim. An article on the Disney site MousePlanet states that Walt Disney was absolutely not born in Spain and that “There is no birth certificate because they were not required by law in Illinois at the turn of the century, especially for a birth taking place at home without a doctor in attendance”.

But some say that they are only trying to cover up the real story.

Locals in Mojácar have said that when the three Disney representatives came to town in 1940, they did not only come to look for the birth certificate, they came to destroy it, because, after their visit, local authorities found Walt Disney or José Guirao Zamora’s page was ripped from the record book.

Whether it’s just a myth or it’s the truth, we’ll probably never know, but it was said that the Disney company did look at building the EuroDisney theme park near Mojácar before ultimately settling on Paris.