Manuel Sánchez Arcas (1897-1970) was a very active architect during the 1920s and 1930s, and a man committed towards the republican cause. He was considered to be one of the maximum components of the Madrid functionalist rationalism, a follower of Gropius, sub-secretary of Propaganda with the government of the republican president Juan Negrín, during the Civil War, Sánchez Arcas was responsible for taking care of the defence of the monuments of Madrid. A friend of Picasso, Pablo Neruda and Rafael Alberti, the architect, like so many other intellectuals, had to go into exile, because of the republican defeat, first to Moscow and afterwards to Warsaw, where he acted as ambassador to Poland for the Spanish Republic in exile. On his way towards Perpignan, Joan Miró, who was also a good friend, he left the home where he was born in Barcelona of the Passatge del Crèdit.
Due to his exile, he died in Berlin in 1970 never again returning to Spain, Sánchez Arcas was a little known character outside the field of architecture, but during the post-war years he worked very hard on works such as the reconstruction of the historic centre of Warsaw. In 1948, he organised the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in the Polish city of Wroclaw (Breslau in German). It was he who invited Picasso and Paul Eluard to participate in the congress, during which the painter gave a speech. During those days, they also made him a cicerone.
Sánchez Arcas, Pablo Picasso and Paul Eluard on the congressional stairs. Unknown photographer. Donation by Alvar Haro to the Museu Picasso de Barcelona
Bearing witness to that encounter are the photographs that the architect’s family has kept for seven decades, and which have so far remained virtually unpublished. When the grandson of Sánchez Arcas, Alvar Haro who is also the painter, learned that the Museu Picasso was preparing an exhibition about the relationship between Picasso and Eluard, he got in touch with the Barcelona museum. In fact, the exhibition Pablo Picasso. Paul Eluard. A sublime friendship contains a section dedicated to the Polish congress, which explains, for example, how a dove of Picasso would become a pacifist symbol for these congresses. “I saw the news of the exhibition and thought that the photos we had of my grandfather with Picasso and Eluard fitted its content perfectly,” Alvar Haro explained. I offered them to the museum. Unfortunately, there was no longer any time to include them in the catalogue, but it was possible in the tour of the exhibition.”
Sánchez Arcas, Pablo Picasso and Ilyá Ehrenburg, with other characters during the Congress. Unknown photographer. Donation by Alvar Haro to the Museu Picasso de Barcelona
This is how two photos from that encounter have been included in the exhibition itinerary, but furthermore, Alvar Haro has kindly donated four photos to the centre from this series, which had previously only been published in the book Picasso w Polsce, about the connection of Picasso with Poland. During the congress, the painter produced a pencil portrait of one of the daughters of Sánchez Arcas, Mercedes, also owned by the family, in this case the descendants of the person portrayed. The drawing is on display until January 31in the exhibition 1939. Spanish Republican Exile, in the art centre La Arquería de Nuevos Ministerios of Madrid, organised by the Ministry of Justice and curated by Juan Manuel Bonet.
Mercedes, daughter of Sánchez Arcas and aunt of Alvar Haro, drawn by Pablo Picasso. Courtesy of the Sánchez Arcas Family © Succession Pablo Picasso, Vegap, Madrid, 2020
In the photos donated to the Museu Picasso you can see the three friends, accompanied by other Polish personalities, from that meeting in Poland. There is an image at the exit of the Congress, for example, but others where you can see them around a table, given that Sánchez Arcas had taken the two guests to visit some interesting places on the outskirts of Wroclaw.
In the center are Paul Eluard, Pablo Picasso (looking at a dog) and Sánchez Arcas. Unknown photographer. Donation by Alvar Haro to the Museu Picasso de Barcelona
Sánchez Arcas was one of the “most committed intellectuals against fascism in Madrid” and among his most important works there are buildings for the University City and the Clinical Hospital of Madrid. “He worked really hard but due to his political activity, he was declared ineligible in Spain after the war. This was the reason, and the fact that he was discreet in character, that led to his work being very unnoticed. With these photographs coming to light, we also want to vindicate his figure”, Alvar Haro stresses.
January 24, 2020
Toda una brillante generación de artistas e intelectuales se vio violentada por el alzamiento militar que desembocaría en la guerra civil y posterior dictadura, cercenando trayectorias profesionales, cobrándose en muchos casos vidas y postergando durante décadas el afán modernizador de España más importante hasta aquel momento. Una generación de talentos en todas las áreas del saber, comunicados entre sí y a nivel internacional y que podían mantener una amistad de tú a tú con genios como Picasso. Post como éste, exposiciones como la magnífica que nos ofrece su museo o la citada del Exilio en Madrid, quizás permitan acercar al público, sobre todo el más joven, unas pinceladas de la fertilidad que supuso aquella etapa de nuestra Historia y de la que todavía seguimos aprendiendo. La obra de mi abuelo se sigue estudiando en la Escuela de Arquitectura, como la de su colaborador y amigo el ingeniero Eduardo Torroja. Conocer la Historia permite que las semillas germinen y que quizás se puedan evitar errores del pasado. Gracias por este texto.
January 24, 2020
A título de anécdota y para subrayar una vez más, algo innecesario, las facultades artísticas de Picasso, mi tía Mercedes refiere las circunstancias en las que se hizo su retrato.
Picasso llevaba días insistiéndole a mi tía en que quería hacerle un retrato, pero nunca encontraban el momento o el material no estaba a mano. Al final de su estancia en Wroclaw fueron todos a pasar el día a una casa en el campo de una arquitecta polaca, Cyrkus, sin luz eléctrica. Anocheciendo, Picasso dijo: ahora o nunca. Cogió un bloc de dibujo que mi tía utilizaba para sus estudios de arquitectura, la sentó enfrente y ya casi sin luz se puso a dibujar. Mi tía exclamó: “pero si es de noche y no se ve nada !” “ No importa, no necesito luz, te llevo registrada en mi cabeza”
En la dedicatoria le puso “ A Merche, recuerdo de aquí”, porque no creo que ni supiera el nombre de aquél paraje ni pudiera pronunciarlo.
Un año después para una recopilación de dibujos desde sus comienzos hasta 1948 para Cercle d Art, Picasso decidió incluirlo y le mandó un ejemplar del libro dedicado a mi abuelo, diciéndole que quiso constancia de un dibujo muy querido para él. Está reproducido junto al famoso de Ilya Ehrenbourg, realizado también en Polonia unos días antes.