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Dancer puts new twist on Picasso painting

Pablo Picasso's anti-war masterpiece "Guernica", one of the world's most iconic paintings, served on Sunday as a backdrop to a dance performance for the first time in its 77-year history.

Dancer puts new twist on Picasso painting
Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP

About 80 people sat on the floor or stood as Josue Ullate, a bare chested dancer in black tights, jumped and leapt in front of the large black-and-white canvas at Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum.

The 20-year-old performed "Quiebro", a piece lasting about five minutes and inspired by a song written by late flamenco singer Enrique Morente that mixes modern ballet with traditional Spanish dance, two times as part of International Dance Day celebrations.

It took organizers over a year of talks to get permission of Ullate to perform in front of the painting, which used images of distorted figures — human and animal — to represent the horrors of war.

The Reina Sofia Museum initially turned down the request but it eventually relented after Picasso's family gave their support to the project, daily newspaper El Pais reported.

"I think it is an amazing idea, very good. They should do it all the time. This was special, it is 'Guernica'. Marvelous," said Miguel Angel Colilla, a 44-year-old painter, after one of the performances.

Ullate performed the piece — created by his father Victor Ullate, a renowned Spanish ballet dancer and choreographer — on a specially created sprung dance floor installed in the gallery where the painting hangs.

Tickets to the one-time event which was held after the museum closed to the public were distributed for free on a first come first served basis over the Internet.

"It was stupendous. Aesthetically the setting is perfect," said Bartolome Garrido, a 44-year-old lawyer who attended with his wife and their two young children.

The Reina Sofia museum, a vast former hospital, displays "Guernica" — which measures 11 feet by 25 feet (3.5-metres by 7.8-metres) — in a purpose-built gallery on its own.

Picasso created "Guernica" as a commission for Spain's Republican government to represent the country at the 1937 World Fair in Paris, as Spain writhed in a bloody civil war started by future dictator General Francisco Franco.

The painting was transferred to Madrid in 1981 from New York's Museum of Modern Art, where it had been deposited on a long-term loan by Picasso until democracy was restored in Spain.

For fear of attack, it was initially housed behind bullet-proof glass and under armed guard at the Prado Museum in Madrid before it was eventually transferred to the nearby Reina Sofia Museum when it opened in 1992.

The painting took its name from Guernica, the ancestral capital of northern Spain's Basque country, which was bombed on April 26, 1937, a spring market day, by German and Italian air forces supporting Franco in a civil war that set the stage for World War II.

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ART

Spanish billionaire banking boss sees jail term doubled over smuggled Picasso

A Spanish court on Tuesday doubled the jail term handed to a former top banker for smuggling a 26-million-euro Picasso painting out of the country onboard a yacht.

Spanish billionaire banking boss sees jail term doubled over smuggled Picasso
Head of a Young Woman by Pablo Picasso Photo: AFP

Former Bankinter boss Jaime Botin, who is 83, was found guilty last month with a Madrid court sentencing him to 18 months in prison and a 52.4-million-euro fine ($58.4 million).

But in a rare turnaround two weeks later, the judge raised the sentence to three years and a 91.7-million-euro fine following what she said was an “error in the imposition of the penalty”, court documents released on Tuesday showed.   

Under the initial ruling, Botin — who also served as a top executive at Santander Bank — had not been expected to spend time behind bars as first-time offenders are usually spared jail for sentences of under two years if convicted of a non-violent crime.   

It was not immediately clear whether Botin would now be jailed, given his advanced age.

Entitled “Head of a Young Girl”, the work was painted by Picasso in Catalonia in 1906 during his pre-Cubist phase. It was purchased by Botin in London in 1977 and brought back to Spain.

Since 2012, Botin, whose family are founder members of the Santander banking group, had been trying to obtain authorisation to export the painting in order to auction it at Christie's in London.

However, the culture ministry refused on grounds there was “no similar work on Spanish territory” from the same period in Picasso's life, with its decision confirmed by Spain's National Court in May 2015, which declared it “unexportable” due to its “cultural interest”.

But barely three months later, the painting was found by French customs officers on board a yacht docked at a harbour on the island of Corsica, who found documents attesting to its value and seized it, saying it had been packaged up to be sent to Switzerland.

They also found documentation stating the painting was not to leave Spain.    

At the time, Botin's lawyers said he was transporting it for storage in a vault in Geneva but the court found him guilty of “smuggling cultural goods” for removing the painting “from national territory without a permit”.

Botin's lawyers had argued against the export ban, noting the painting was acquired in Britain and was on board a British-flagged vessel when seized.    

The painting, whose ownership has now been transferred to the Spanish state, is currently stored at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, which houses Picasso's large anti-war masterpiece “Guernica”.

READ MORE: Spanish banker gets jail term for trying to smuggle Picasso masterpiece out of Spain on yacht

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