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Protected Art
Catalogue

Protected Art

Protected Art

Madrid 6/27/2003 - 9/14/2003

Protected Art: A record of the Committee for the Artistic Patrimony during the Civil War is an exhibition devoted to the methods implemented by the Committee for the Artistic Patrimony (Junta del Tesoro Artístico) in their efforts to safeguard Spain’s artistic patrimony during the Civil War. Its intention is to pay homage to the collaborative efforts of the main figures involved who are still very little known today, but whose actions were enormously important for the protection of the country’s art treasures: the Museo del Prado, in particular, owes the survival of its greatest masterpieces to their endeavours.

Featuring 174 photographs and 35 objects as well as original documents of the period, most of them unpublished and never exhibited up to now, the exhibition provides a chronological account of the most important events that took place during the fighting in Madrid. The devastating effects of this combat on some of the most important monuments in the city led to the creation of the Artistic Patrimony Committee. The exhibition also looks at the protective methods adopted as a consequence of the very perilous conditions in which the capital’s buildings and art treasures found themselves and concludes with an account of the hazard-ridden transportation of key works of art to Valencia, then Catalonia and finally Geneva. Most of the items in the exhibition come from the photographic files of the Madrid Special Committee, now housed in the Institute for Spanish Historic Patrimony (Instituto de Patrimonio Histórico Español, or IPHE) and the Museo del Prado’s own archives. Other important written accounts come from public institutions such as the National Library and the Archive of the Regional Government of Madrid. In addition, there are extremely important accounts, photographs and unpublished documents which have been loaned or in many cases generously donated by those involved in the events themselves or their descendants.

Curators:
Judith Ara, Associate Deputy Director for Conservation in the Museo del Prado, and Isabel Argerich, head of the Photographic Archive of Artistic Information and the Moreno Archive at the IPHE

Multimedia

Exhibition

The Bombing of Madrid

The Bombing of Madrid

The military uprising against the Republican Government on 18 July 1936 resulted in the start of the Spanish Civil War. In September of that year, following weeks of turmoil and tragic violence which saw the country divided into those loyal to the government and the rebels, as well as the positions adopted by foreign nations with regard to the war, the Nationalist forces focused on the capture of Republican Madrid. The capital was bombed sporadically from the end of August, while Nationalist troops assaulted from November and on the sixth of that month the Republican government moved to Valencia. Bitterly-fought battles continued for more than three months with the front line between the two forces, located on the western edge of the city, remaining almost unchanged for the next two years until 28 March 1939, three days between the declaration of the end of the war. During that time Madrid was in a permanent state of partial siege and the subject of a war of attrition. The city suffered from a lack of supplies as well as continuous bombings.

The bloodiest fighting in the battle for Madrid took place between 7 and 18 November 1936. The Republican Defence Committee (Junta de Defensa) organised military and civilian units against the advance of the Nationalist troops which reached the Casa de Campo and the Ciudad Universitaria. At the same time they systematically bombed the city, targeting not only industrial or logistical targets but also the streets, which were badly affected. Using new tactics, the attacking forces aimed to sew chaos and fear among the population and undermine its defences. The Committee for the Artistic Patrimony (Junta del Tesoro Artístico) produced a highly detailed photographic report recording the effect of these bombings on religious and cultural buildings in the city centre as well as ordinary houses. They covered the area around the Puerta del Sol, the calle Preciados, the calle Huertas and surrounding streets. In addition, they made records of the impact of the bombs and the type of ammunition involved.

The Heritage in Danger

The Heritage in Danger

The aerial bombings of November 1936 over the centre of Madrid affected more than the important historic buildings located within the relatively small centre of the city. Bombs also fell on some of the most famous buildings in the city that housed an enormously rich artistic patrimony: the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional), the Royal Fine Arts Academy (Real Academia de Bellas Artes), the Archaeological and Anthropological Museums and others. As a result, protective measures were increased and the most important objects were moved to storage areas set up by the Committee for the Artistic Patrimony which could provide greater security. These events of the day also affected the Palace of the Dukes of Alba – requisitioned by the 5th Regiment at the outset of the war – and the works of art from the palace were sent to Valencia, subsequently passing into the care of the Central Committee

Bombs over the Museo del Prado

Bombs over the Museo del Prado

Some of the aerial bombs that fell on Madrid on 16 November 1936 hit the Museo del Prado and the surrounding area. Due to the precautionary measures taken by museum staff prior to this date, the only object affected inside the building was a 16th-century relief, but the fabric of the building itself was affected by the blast waves of nearby explosions, particularly the walls. A propaganda war resulted from the inevitable amazement and indignation that this event aroused, of which diagrams, notarial documents and photographs have survived. Because the war was still in progress, the building could not be completely repaired, and efforts were intensified with regard to the protection and improvement of the Museum, particularly regarding appropriate levels of protection for the works of art.

The Rescuers

The Rescuers

As in other cities in Republican Spain, the military uprising in Madrid resulted in a wave of unchallenged destruction of ecclesiastical buildings and objects and the occupation of monasteries, palaces and other splendid buildings by workers’ organisations and military units. In order to avoid the serious risks that such occupations involved to these buildings and their contents, including works of art, libraries and archives, on 23 July 1936, five days after the outbreak of war, the State Office of Fine Arts (Dirección General de Bellas Artes) of the Ministry of Public Information set up a Committee for the Requisition and Protection of the Artistic Patrimony (Junta de Incautación y Protección del Tesoro Artístico) on the advice and instigation of the Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals (Alianza de Intelectuales Antifasciastas). This was the origin of the various committees which were set up in different cities. From 1937 it came under the heading of the Central Committee (Junta Central) established in Valencia. The committee was made up of civil servants plus numerous volunteers and focused on the safeguarding of buildings and movable works of art and objects of value to the heritage, under both religious and secular ownership as well as public property, in particular museums.

Who was involved

Who was involved

On 28 July 1936, the Committee for the Artistic Patrimony met for the first time in Madrid. Initially comprising five members, after various public appeals and the reallocation of civil servants, it was enlarged to comprise a sizeable group of specialists and assistants so that by 1937 it had 151 members. From a variety of professions and political backgrounds, all were united in their aim of preserving Spain’s artistic, literary and archival patrimony from the risks of war, a task facilitated by the assistance they received from military and civil organisations. The Committee set up its headquarters in the Palacio de Bibliotecas y Museos (the present National Library and National Archaeological Museum) and also had several different storage areas for requisitioned objects. During its nearly three years’ of activity, the Committee in Madrid was unanimously praised by all those who visited its various venues.

The Education Project

The Education Project

Revolutionary movements of various types that sprung up in the Republican zones were responsible for the burning and looting of numerous churches and monasteries. In order to bring to an end such events in Madrid, the Committee initiated an informational and educational project focusing on respect and care for the nation’s historic patrimony. Among their activities was a project for a museum of religious art, lectures and visits to the Museo del Prado, radio announcements, and, most effectively, numerous illustrated posters which called on people to respect Spanish cultural patrimony. These were initially designed by Fine Art students and from 1937 various different types of posters, pamphlets and leaflets were issued which were distributed and hung on buildings under the Committee´s care

Requisitions and Loans

Requisitions and Loans

The Madrid Committee for the Artistic Patrimony visited church and secular buildings which housed objects of particular cultural interest and drew up guidelines for the best way of protecting them: either in situ, having made an inventory of them in sealed rooms, or by moving them to various stores set up in San Francisco el Grande, Santa Bárbara, the Museo del Prado, the Archaeology and Modern Art museums, the National Library and National Historical Archive. More than 20,000 paintings, sculptures and objects were moved by the Committee to these stores, as well as numerous collections of books and archives, catalogued and labelled with the owners’ names, allowing for them to be more easily returned at a later date. In 1937, the Committee undertook to move objects that were in danger as they were located near the battle lines. Thus the contents of the Royal Armoury and the Library of the Royal Palace were moved to the Museo del Prado, while the objects in San Francisco el Grande were moved to the Archaeological Museum

The Protection of Monuments

The Protection of Monuments

For logistical reasons, the protection of fixed monuments such as the fountains of Cibeles, Apollo and Neptune, as well as monumental sculpted doorways, was initially delegated to the Area for Works and Fortifications (Comandancia de Obras y Fortificaciones), then from the spring of 1937 to the Committee for the Reform, Rebuilding and Sanitation of Madrid (Comité de Reforma, Reconstrucción y Saneamiento de Madrid) which included a number of the Committee’s architects. The Committee also offered technical and financial support to the directors and curators of a number of Madrid’s museums in order to help them preserve their buildings and the objects housed within them, including the Decorative Arts, the Cerralbo, the Naval and the Natural History museums, among others. Emergency measures were also adopted in the monasteries of the Encarnación and the Descalzas Reales and other religious buildings under the Committee’s care.

Conservation and Restoration

Many of the works of art for which the Committee was responsible, particularly paintings, presented problems of conservation. Some had been damaged in anti-clerical attacks, others darkened by time and lack of care, while others were badly damaged by high levels of humidity and lack of sufficient air. These paintings and many others were restored in the Museo del Prado’s restoration studio and the studio set up by the Central Committee in Valencia, also staffed by Prado restorers. Before paintings were sent to Valencia, and subsequently to Catalunya, they were the subject of a report with photographs on the state of the canvases or panels and whether they might be damaged by transportation. Fragile paintings which were moved despite their condition were prepared before the journey by restorers at the Museo del Prado

The Road East

The Road East

On 5 November 1936 the directorship of the Museo del Prado received a Ministerial Order from the Department of Fine Arts to proceed with the transportation of the most important works of art in the collection to Valencia. Those who made the initial selection of works were dedicated people but essentially lacking in the necessary technical knowledge. Due to various mishaps which occurred during the first transport of works, on 15 December the Committee for the Artistic Patrimony in collaboration with the Museum was made responsible for guaranteeing their safety. Between 5 November 1936 and 5 February 1938 various groups of works from the Museo del Prado were sent to Valencia, totalling 391 paintings and 181 drawings, as well as the Treasure of the Dauphin. The Central Committee in collaboration with the Delegated Committee in Valencia set up two specially-equipped stores for the works of art, located in the Torres de Serranos and the Colegio del Patriarca in Valencia

Packing and Transport

Packing and Transport

To ensure that the key works from the Museo del Prado were moved to Valencia without risk, the Ministry of Public Instruction of the Republican government made the necessary financial and human resources available to the Committee for the Artistic Patrimony. Works were prepared before the trip in order to ensure that they suffered the least possible damage en route. Hence the packaging was entrusted to specialists in art transport who saw to the stability of the works inside the vehicles and their protection from movement and damage by environmental factors. The system employed risk parameters which are still considered technically valid today for the movement of works of art.

The Journey to Valencia

The risk of transporting works of art 300 kilometres overland from Madrid to Valencia in time of war was more than considerable. Many factors had to be taken into account: the routes had to be worked out extremely carefully and the vehicles had to travel extremely slowly (30km per hour) to reduce the effects of vibration on the works. They also had to have fire extinguishers and to fill up at a distance from petrol pumps using support tankers in order to reduce the possible risk of fire in the fuel deposits. Finally the composition of the convoy, as well as the route lengths and escort, had to be established. With the exception of few mishaps on the first trips, those realised under the supervision of the Madrid Committee from December 1936 took place without incident.

Torres de Serranos

Torres de Serranos

Once in Valencia, the Ministry of Public Instruction, and later the Central Committee designated certain locations as offering the maximum security for the storage of works of art sent from Madrid. The main storage facility was located in the Torres de Serrano on account of the sturdy construction of this Gothic fortress. It was specially adapted by architects on the Committee to provide suitable environmental conditions for housing works of art. The structure was reinforced with new concrete ceilings against possible bombings, particularly given that the Spanish Civil War saw the use of new types of armaments with greater penetration power. The Torres housed the tapestries belonging to the Patrimonio de la República and masterpieces from the Museo del Prado.

The Colegio del Patriarca

The Committee for the Artistic Patrimony carried out most of its activities in the Church and College of the Patriarch in Valencia. The entire Seminary was used as a reception point for works of art, to check their condition and packaging and to see if any preventative treatment or restoration was needed. Works of art from the collection of the Duke of Alba were exhibited in the cloister, transferred to the protection of the Central Committee which was by that point in Valencia. Spaces in the 17th-century Baroque church were made suitable for housing large-scale canvases. The pioneering nature of this whole project is evident in the architectural measures taken to reinforce the structure of the building and allow for climate control, air circulation and necessary access.

The Long Journey

The Long Journey

On March 1938, in the face of the imminent breakdown in communications between Valencia and Catalonia, the Government of the Republic ordered the works of art and other objects of heritage in Valencia to be moved to Figueras. One month later, the Protection Committees came under the Ministry of Finance, and while they continued to be directly responsible for the survival and protection of Spain’s cultural heritage, the contradictions resulting from these new political alignments became ever more obvious. Shortly before the fall of Catalonia in 1939, the International Committee for the Safeguard of Spanish Art Treasures and the Central Committee reached an agreement with the Republican government to evacuate the works of art and other artistic patrimony to the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva until the end of the war. The works of art and other objects arrived in Geneva on 14 February 1939. They were inventoried and then handed over to the Nationalist Government of Burgos which authorised the Museum of Art and History in the City to show masterpieces from the Museo del Prado over the summer. On 9 September the works of art returned to Madrid, one week after the start of World War II.

The Move to Catalonia

During the transit of works of art from Valencia to Catalonia in March 1938 two major paintings by Goya, The 2nd of May 1808 in Madrid or "The Fight against the Mamelukes" and The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid or "The Executions", were seriously damaged, while others suffered from the effects of this rapid move. All were restored and conserved by the Museo del Prado’s restorers who had accompanied the paintings during their hazardous journey. In Catalonia the Central Committee ordered the Ministry of Finance to prepare storage facilities similar to those which they had prepared in Valencia, but the conditions resulting from the previous few months of war made this impossible. The military fortress in Figueras, the castle of Peralada and the talc mines in La Vajol, the most recent headquarters of the Republican government and possible military targets, were used as stores for works of art before their move to Geneva

1939, Arrival in Geneva

February 1939 saw the fall of Catalonia. To avoid any risk that the art stores might be looted or destroyed, the recently-created International Committee for the Rescue of Spanish Art Treasures signed the “Figueras Agreement” on 3 February whereby the Republican government committed itself to deliver the works of art to the care of the League of Nations, and that at the end of the war they would be returned to Spain. Between 4 and 9 February the evacuation of works of art began, filling 71 trucks and in conditions of great risk. Once in France, the cargo was moved onto a train that left Perpignan for Switzerland on 12 February in an expedition financed by the International Committee. Five days later, the priceless cargo arrived at the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva

Pictures on Display

Pictures on Display

An inventory of all the works of art and objects brought to Geneva was compiled during March 1939 at the headquarters of the International Committee of the League of Nations and the Central Committee. On 30 March, one day after the war in Spain ended, the League of Nations officially delivered all the holdings of works of art and objects to the Government of Burgos. The Museum of Art and History in Geneva organised an exhibition of some of the works involved entitled “Masterpieces from the Museo del Prado” which was open to the public during the months of July and August. This was universally considered the most important cultural event to take place in Europe that year. It allowed the numerous visitors who attended to see some of the great paintings collected by the Spanish monarchy and featured works by Velázquez, Goya, El Greco, Titian, Bosch and Dürer, among others.

The Return

The Return

When the Government of Burgos took possession of the works of art sent to Switzerland, preparations were made for their return. While the paintings chosen for the exhibition were moved to the Geneva Museum, the rest went to the Exhibition Hall from where the first return convoys set out on 10 May and 14 June 1939. The paintings that had been included in the exhibition left Geneva on 5 September, two days after World War II broke out. Transported by train, the convoy had to make frequent stops to allow military units to go past, as well as to check and adjust the cargo. Finally, on 9 September, the paintings, works of art and other objects arrived at Madrid’s Estación del Norte and were transported to the Museo del Prado from there. The masterpieces which had left the Museum from November 1936 onwards returned home with scarcely any losses after a long and hazardous journey.

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