Picasso on the record: testimonies. Assumpta Escudero

Few testimonial voices remain from the inauguration of the Museu Picasso, back then on March 9th 1963, a date that went on to form part of the history of our city, of our country.

Assumpta Escudero Ribot (1931) didn’t attend the opening event: however her professional and personal situation made her an exceptional witness.

Presentation of the book Los Picassos de Barcelona by Cesareo Rodríguez Aguilera with Joan Ainaud de Lasarte, Polo Picasso and Christine,  and Claude Picasso. 25/10/1974. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Joaquín M. Domínguez

We will immediately see why. In 1953, the moment in which the City Council of Barcelona purchased the Palau Berenguer d’Aguilar in Montcada street, the future venue for the Museu Picasso, Escudero started to work in the Numismatic Cabinet, one of the museums of the city.

When the decision was taken (agreed with Picasso himself) of locating the Museu Picasso in this palace, rehabilitation works started in 1961. During the rehabilitation, some mural paintings of historical scenes were found, which dated back approximately to 1285-1290 (they narrated the conquest of Majorca by Jaume I, the Conqueror, in 1229).  This jewel of Catalan Gothic was moved to the current Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya the year after its discovery.  Escudero formed part of the team destined to study and restore the Palace:

“I remember how we went knocking down the walls and partitions that had divided up the primitive palace to turn it into flats for rent, and the happiness we felt when we discovered the paintings of the Conquest of Majorca.”

Arrival of the series of Las Meninas with Joan Ainaud de Lasarte. 09/05/1968. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Pérez de Rozas

In 1962, Assumpta Escudero married Joan Ainaud de Lasarte, at that time the Director General of the Art Museums of the City Council of Barcelona, and one of the most important figures in the creation of the new centre.

Assumpta, for personal reasons, didn’t attend the inauguration event of the Museu Picasso, nevertheless she lived it through her husband:

“Until the eve of the inauguration, my husband was very worried because orders had been sent from Madrid to the Mayor stating the Museum shouldn’t be called Picasso. The last telegram arrived the day before. The Mayor, Mr. Porcioles, telephoned my husband to ask if the Museum had to be inaugurated with the name Palau Berenguer d’Aguilar. Joan answered him: “If it’s not called Museu Picasso, don’t expect a single donation more.” Porcioles gave the order to collocate the sign prepared of the Museu Picasso. Until Joan returned home after the inauguration, I was very anxious […]”.”

Besides that historic event lived through her husband, Escudero had the privilege of meeting Picasso at the beginning of July 1971.  Anna Maria Torra (wife of the Barcelona publisher Gustau Gili) provided her with the opportunity:

“The Gili family and my husband prepared that trip taking a traditional Easter palm to Picasso and to talk about the “future” door of the Museu Picasso. This made me very excited, but Joan didn’t want me to go with them because my presence, unexpected by Picasso, could go against the visit. It was necessary to be expected and invited to enter the premises of Picasso’s home in Mougins (the farmhouse of Nôtre Dame de Vie). I mentioned this to Anna Maria Torra de Gili and she came up with a solution: I would go invited by the Gili couple to introduce me to Picasso, something that my husband had to accept and that made me very happy.”

Visit of Jacqueline Picasso, with Joan Ainaud de Lasarte. 1982. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: unknown

The two couples Gili-Torra and Ainaud-Escudero flew to Cannes by plane. Then they went to the farmhouse of Nôtre Dame de Vie where they were received by Picasso and his wife Jacqueline:

“We rang the bell at the door of the house, announcing ourselves, the door opened and I saw Picasso.  I was totally moved!  The difficulties of getting there made my emotions even greater.  When I was introduced to Picasso and Jacqueline, what most caught my attention were the eyes of Picasso: they shined and seemed to be looking at everything at the same time […] In Picasso’s home we entered the living room with a very long table and we gave him the palm, something that Picasso praised and was very grateful for.  Afterwards my husband and the Gili couple started to lay out prints on the table. They did this so that Picasso could choose one to turn it into the model for the door of the Museu Picasso, once it was enlarged with the neighbouring Baró de Castellet Palace, to include the donation that Picasso had made in March 1970 of all the paintings (maybe more than one thousand) that the family had stored in a flat in Passeig de Gràcia.

I sat facing Picasso and continued to be obsessed by the eyes of the artist as they looked over all the prints so as to make a selection. It was marvellous! In a given moment, Jacqueline, who was seated on a rocking next to the master, got up and came over to me and invited me to sit next to her husband on the rocking chair.  I took a lot of asking because for me the rocking chair and Jacqueline were of one, but she insisted: “Yes, I demand you do so!” […] I didn’t stay long because Picasso must have thought I was bored and told his secretary [Mariano] Miguel to open the storerooms to let me wander among all his works of art. I saw and held in my hands sculptures, ceramics and paintings by Picasso, but also by Cézanne, Miró and others that formed part of his private collection. They were all over the place; on the tables, on the walls, and on the floor. It was thrilling […]

For sure, Anna Maria explained to Jacqueline, while I was in the storerooms, how and why I had been invited to meet Picasso, because a few days later my husband received a postcard from Jacqueline: “Pablo and I were very happy to see both of you. Kisses, Jacqueline”.”

Delivery in deposit of the work The Dead Woman by the Fundació Picasso-Reventós. 23/10/1973. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: unknown

At that time the secretary of Picasso was Mariano Miguel. Jaume Sabartés, a friend and confidante for half a life, had died in February 1968.  Escudero had also known “Jaumet” (as Picasso sometimes called him), the other major part, along with the artist, in the creation of the Museu Picasso of Barcelona. He had visited his home in Paris; moreover, Sabartés had gone for lunch at the home of the Ainaud-Escudero during one of his stays in the Catalan capital.  Escudero remembers Sabartés with these words:

“For me he was like a grandfather eager to explain things to his grandchildren.”

The Ainaud family also met Polo, the son of the artist and his first wife, the Russian dancer Olga Koklova. The cousins Joan and Miquel Gaspar accompanied Polo and his wife to the home of the Ainaud family so that he could express out loud directly to Dr. Ainaud their desire to increase the Picassian heritage in the Museu Picasso:

“One day the cousins Miquel and Joan Gaspar came to our home with a couple.  They were Polo Picasso and his wife. The Gaspar cousins brought Polo Picasso to our home because they wanted him to personally say to my husband what he had advanced to them.”

After Pablo Picasso’s death, Polo had taken on the role of head of the family; as such he stated his desire to continue making donations to the Museu Picasso of Barcelona:

“Unfortunately, a short time after this conversation […] we heard about the sudden death of Polo Picasso, shortly after his return home. For the misfortune of our city, none of that conversation had served for anything.”

Visit of Daniel Henri Kahnweiler, with Joan Ainaud de Lasarte. c. 1980. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Joaquín M. Domínguez

As we have seen, Assumpta Escudero didn’t attend the inauguration, but her Picassian experiences deserve to be listened to; listening to the past to live the present and construct the future: a major history constructed with documents but also with the oral memory of those whom life has led to enjoy memorable events, stories that make history and help us to construct it.

Claustre Rafart i Planas

Related links
Exhibitions “50 years of the Museu Picasso in Barcelona”

  • Jaume Maymó
    November 27, 2013

    Benvolguda CLAUSTRE, felicitats un cop més pel teu treball sempre interessant i sorprenent al voltant de Picasso i la nostra ciutat, i per aquest testimoni de l’Assumpta Escudero que ens fas arribar. Aquesta nota i la celebració dels 50 anys del Museu em fan recordar també el gran testimoni escrit que ens va deixar el matrimoni Elvira Farreras i Joan Gaspar en les seves Memòries “Art i vida a Barcelona 1911-1996, recollides per Antoni Ribas i editades per La Campana, l’any 1997.

  • Claustre Rafart
    November 28, 2013

    Hola Jaume, Moltes gràcies per l’estímul que suposa la teva opinió, sempre ben acollida. Quant a les memòries que referències, penso que són molt il·lustratives, no només dels seus protagonistes, l’Elvira Farreras i en Joan Gaspar, sinó també de la Barcelona del moment.

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