The Picasso painting “Head of a Young Woman” is in the possession of a Spanish delegation after a French court ordered it to be returned to Madrid.
French customs officials had seized the painting from a boat on the island of Corsica during an attempt to export it to Switzerland.
The €25 million ($27.4 million) painting "drew the attention of French officials", the country's customs authority said in a statement, with customs agents on the French island boarding the vessel the following day.
The ship's captain could only present two documents regarding the work of art, the statement said - one of which was a May 2015 Spanish court judgement labelling the painting a work of art and ordering that it not be taken out of the country.
(French customs officers carefully handling the Picasso painting as it is returned to Spain. Photo: Douane Française)
The painting is owned by Jaime Botín, a well-known Spanish banker whose family was involved in the Santander banking group in 1857.
The 79-year-old, who was formerly the banking giant's vice chairman, was not aboard the vessel, which was owned by the company and flying a British flag, a customs authority spokesman said.
According to the spokesman, the export demand was also not in Botín's name.
An export demand was filed for the painting in December 2012 to move it to London, but was opposed by Spain's culture minister.