s e p t e m b e r  20,  2012


picasso 2 images Dossier No. 74664


Shrewd Paris detectives can’t be denied a certain flair for “art”. They drew a bead on the 20-year-old Picasso on May 5, 1901, when he arrived in France for his first exhibition. On May 18 the police commissaire in charge of the 3rd brigade already reported to his superiors that a certain Picasso Ruis Pablo had lodged with the anarchist Manach Pierre, his compatriot and art dealer, on the last floor of #130 Boulevard de Clichy. The dwelling was a sort of phalanstery for artists who were under surveillance due to their “subversive opinions”.

The first police report was largely supported with concierge evidence. The report opened with the traditional description of the suspect: “Height 1.68 meter – hair black and long – nascent light brown moustache – wears a black suit and hat.” (The secret agent made a mistake: Picasso was in fact only 1.60 meters/5.25 ft high.) The vigilant commissaire adds his portrait and even describes one of his latest paintings showing soldiers beating up a beggar. Picasso, he goes on to say, is visited by unknown people and receives letters and newspapers from Spain. He leaves the house every night and returns well into the night or at times stays out throughout the night.

The scrupulous commissaire attached a copy of a newspaper article about Picasso. A special report focused on his political views. Although he had not been seen at the anarchist reunions and the watchful concierge never heard Picasso voice any “subversive” opinions, the commissaire was convinced that Picasso shared the ideas of his compatriot Manach and should be therefore considered an anarchist.

After the artist held his second exhibition in 1904 and Guillaume Apollinaire published an article about him in La Plume revue, the police prefect demanded “new intelligence information about Picasso, Ruiz Pablo, born October 25, 1881, in Malaga”. From that time on the secret service never let Picasso out of sight, registering his addresses, including his studio at rue des Grands-Augustins, where he received his mistresses and painted Guernica. Reports were filed on every trip made by the artist inside or outside France.

Picasso did have trouble with police. In September 1911 he was interrogated in connection with ancient statuettes that he kept and that had been stolen from the Louvre in 1907 by Géry Pieret, Apollinaire’s secretary. The latter passed them on to Picasso, who drew inspiration from them when working on his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The scandal broke out four years later, when an Italian house-painter stole La Joconde from the Louvre. Apollinaire was interrogated and put behind bars for several days. Picasso, too, was summoned to the police but no legal action was taken.

Picasso was put under an even closer surveillance after he had met the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova in the spring of 1917 in Rome, where he had come to work on the Parade ballet to music by Erik Satie. When they decided to get married, the police made a prenuptial enquiry before granting its authorization: “Lives #22 rue Victor-Hugo at Montrouge, paying 1 800 francs per year. Works as an artist, getting on average 25 francs a day. Is in good repute with his neighbors and is known for his Francophile views.” The dossier of Picasso and his wife was numbered 74664.



From Yury Kovalenko’s Russkaya palitra Parizha (The Russian Palette of Paris)

Moscow, Russkiy Mir, 2012

A photo by Lucien Clergue was used as the illustration for this material.