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|Picasso's Cuban Cousins
by Ysabel de la Rosa
|Want to try a new tongue twister? The grandfather of the father of Cubism fathered a son in Cuba. In other words: Pablo Picasso's maternal grandfather, Francisco Picasso Guardeño, left his wife and four daughters (one of whom, María, was Pablo Picasso's mother) and went to Cuba to make a fortune. There, he had a liaison with Cristina Serra, a black woman who may or may not have been a slave.
Although the story is not completely clear, it seems that Picasso Guardeño -- described as an "eccentric gentleman with a walrus moustache" -- and Serra truly loved each other. In the 1860s, it was common for Spanish men in Cuba to have relationships with black women, but it was unheard of for a Spanish man to openly create a family with a "woman of color," free or otherwise, and give his name to the children of that union. But this is exactly what Picasso Guardeño did.
He had four children with Serra -- and named them after his children in Spain! One of his Spanish daughters was named Aurelia, for instance, thus he included Aurelio in his first son's name. This first son, Juan Francisco Aurelio Picasso Serra, fathered nine children with his wife, Elvira Granados.
A daughter, Caridad Picasso, gave birth to seven children, all of whom died. According to Picasso biographer John Richardson, Picasso Guardeño intended to return to Spain, if not forever, at least for a family visit. His baggage made it, but Picasso Guardeño didn't. According to some accounts he fell victim to yellow fever, and according to others he died from pernicious anemia. Whatever the cause of death, he was buried hurriedly in Cienfuegos, Cuba, in 1888.
To date, 41 descendents of Francisco Picasso Guardeño have been identified. Thirty-one are still alive. All descend from Juan Francisco Aurelio Picasso and his wife Elvira.
This "black-and-white" love story and its multigenerational legacy have come to light primarily through the efforts of Cuban historian Bárbara Mejides and Cuban reporter Julia Mirabal. Mirabal's 19-minute documentary, Los Picassos Negros (The Black Picassos) first aired at the Havana Film Festival in 1999. The documentary, however, is only part of Mirabal's "Black Picasso" oeuvre.
The reporter had planned to do a four-minute video on the Cuban Picassos, but with Mejides' help, she found so much information that she produced a five-part television series instead.
The number of identified Picasso descendents increased after the documentary aired. Among those who "came out" were Juan Antonio Pascual Picasso (pictured), and Delia and Luis Picasso Granados, all reported to look "appreciably" like their famous painter ancestor.
The story made headlines in Spain when Mirabal appeared in Málaga for the showing of the documentary Los Picassos Negros at Malaga's Third Annual Film Festival last summer. Ramón Picasso, a Havana radiologist and great-grandson of Pablo Picasso's grandfather, accompanied her. The 43-year-old doctor joked with the press, saying that after the television show aired he couldn't get into his office for the crowds.
Showing the documentary in Spain brings the Cuban Picasso saga full-circle. A little over two years ago, in La Coruña, Spain, in a meeting of the Pablo Ruiz Picasso Association, Enrique Meciñeira Teijeiro mentioned that a black man with the last name of Picasso had worked in one of his family's Cuban refineries. This Picasso, he said, had extraordinary skill in any manual project he undertook.
Knowing that Picasso's grandfather had landed in Cuba at age 43, the group decided to investigate, and contacted historian Bárbara Mejides.
Before Mejides' research and Mirabal's filmmaking, some members of Cuba's Picasso family tree were virtually unaware of the direct bloodline that links them to the Picasso. Others, who did not know about it, had no desire to make this relation public. Now, for the most part, the Cuban Picassos seem to be taking the genealogical news with Caribbean casualness and wit.
Gloria Molina Picasso, a great-great-granddaughter to Francisco Picasso Guardeño, keeps a caricature drawing of Pablo Picasso on her studio wall, where she works as a graphic designer. The 78-year-old Luis Picasso Granados carries a press clipping on Picasso in his wallet, because he "likes to see his name in the news."
On the other side of the Atlantic, according to Mirabal, the European Picassos were indeed aware of their dark-skinned relatives, but never publicly alluded to them. In the "small-world" category, it's worth noting that Wifredo Lam, one of Cuba's best-known modern painters, lived in Sagua la Grande, the town in which most of the Cuban Picassos lived. Some arts writers believe Lam must have known about Picasso's "other" family and that Picasso knew that he knew. Picasso was a kind of godfather to Lam while he was in Paris -- a fact that is now leading to questions about the altruism of Picasso's friendship with the painter.
The leitmotif question in all this has been, of course: Was there or is there an artist in this newly discovered Picasso dynasty?
Yes, depending on which kind of art you mean. Picasso Guardeño's first son Juan Francisco Aurelio Picasso was a Mason and a renowned Rumba dancer. Juan Francisco Aurelio's eldest son, Juan Remigio, founded the Cultural Association of Plaster Workers in 1920. His nickname was "First Master of Gesso." Gloria Molina Picasso, mentioned above, is a designer. And Juan Antonio Picasso's grandson Joan Picasso is in art school, studying painting.
YSABEL DE LA ROSA is an art historian who writes on art from Spain.