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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of Pablo Picasso and the Musée Picasso in Paris

What is the Musée Picasso?

The Musée Picasso, also known as the Musée National Picasso-Paris, is an art gallery and museum dedicated to the celebrated 20th-century artist Pablo Picasso in an elaborate former town house

Musée Picasso interior

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Musée Picasso History

Picasso was the most influential painter, draughtsman, and sculptor of the 20th century. For the highest number of museums dedicated solely to the works of a single artist, he holds the record! The Musée Picasso is one of the most significant of these museums.

Although he grew up in Spain, Picasso fell in love with the French capital and moved permanently to the city in 1904, when he was in his early twenties. He was a passionate curator of his own art, and even boastfully claimed himself to be ‘the greatest collector of Picassos in the world’. When he died in 1973, the artist left behind a personal corpus of over 70,000 pieces including paintings, sculptures, sketches, drawings, prints, ceramics and notebooks. Added to this was his private art collection of artists he admired, featuring among others works by Cézanne, Degas, Matisse and Rousseau. In effect, then, the Musée Picasso’s exhibits are the result of an artist curating his own work.

Many of the 5,000 items in the museum’s collection were donated by Picasso’s surviving family members who inherited them upon his death in 1973. Not all of them, however, donated with a mind to preserving Picasso’s legacy, or out of the goodness of their hearts: more prosaically, they were aiming to avoid paying hefty sums of inheritance tax. In 1968, France enacted a law that permitted heirs to pay tax with art instead of money, as long as the art was deemed to be of significant cultural importance. State curators had the prerogative of first choice from the works of any art collection, meaning that they could take all the best works for the Musée Picasso.

Musée Picasso man inspects painting

Picasso had no pre-existing relationship with the Hôtel Salé, the grand town house which now hosts the museum, although he loved buildings of many architectural styles and ages. The house is named not after its original owner, Pierre Aubert, but his profession: Aubert was a tax collector who became enormously wealthy by means of the gabelle or salt tax (salé means ‘salty’ in French), a deeply unpopular measure that was applied to all sorts of agricultural and industrial commodities.

The building has a chequered history with a number of different owners and incarnations. It served as the Embassy of the Republic of Venice in the late 17th century, before being expropriated by the state during the French Revolution and converted into a repository for books discovered in local convents. In the 19th century it was a school (pupils included Balzac, the renowned novelist) and in 1964 it was finally acquired by the City of Paris.

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