Family Feud: Who can authenticate a work by Pablo Picasso?

In “Authenticating Picasso,” ARTnews journalist George Stolz brings to light new authentication procedures for Pablo Picasso’s works. Stolz takes us back to September 2012 when four of Pablo Picasso’s five living heirs, Claude Picasso, Paloma Picasso, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, and Marina Ruiz-Picasso, dispersed a letter proclaiming a new procedure for authenticating unique original works by Picasso. This letter, created to “simplify the authentication process and clarify it for the sake of the Picasso market,” appoints Claude as the designated authenticator and states that “only his [Claude’s] opinions shall be fully and officially acknowledged by the undersigned.”  Curiously enough, one crucial signature was absent from this letter, that of Maya Picasso, Picasso’s oldest daughter. Upon hearing about this letter, Maya Picasso stated to ARTnews, “I only found out when a friend told me…I nearly died” (Stolz, George. “Authenticating Picasso.”ARTnews, January 2, 2013).

Maya Picasso

For decades, the art world has been consumed by confusion surrounding the proper authentication procedures for Picasso’s works. Even today, forty years after Picasso’s death, feuding and disagreements between his legal heirs have greatly complicated matters of authentication. While the heirs initially established an official committee to authenticate Picasso’s works, this committee was short-lived and disbanded in large part due to conflicting opinions between Claude and Maya Picasso. Following the committee’s disbandment, these two heirs began issuing individual certificates of authenticity independent of one another. For this reason, auction houses began requesting certificates from both heirs, a matter that was easier said than accomplished.

Picasso’s five heirs comprise the Succession Picasso (the estate of Picasso), which maintains the resale and reproduction rights of Picasso’s works.  Under French law, only individual heirs have inherited the moral right (or droit moral) to authenticate Picasso’s unique original works, as an artist’s descendants are assumed to have an inherent understanding of the artist’s works and are therefore entitled to issue certificates of authenticity.  While Marina, Paloma, and Bernard have not particularly utilized this right, Maya and Claude have been authenticating Picasso’s unique original works for years.

Maya Picasso was born in 1935, the daughter of Marie-Thérèse Walter. Of all five heirs, Maya spent the most time with Picasso. She believes that she has an intuitive sense regarding the authenticity of works, yet she has often been criticized for her slow response times and unscholarly research methods.  In contrast, Claude, who was born to Françoise Gilot in 1947, retains the most public visibility of all the heirs. As the head of the Picasso Administration, he also has access to the Administration’s archives, library, and contacts - resources that he utilizes extensively.

In light of this new letter, it would appear that Claude is currently the one to address in regards to authenticating a potentially unique original work by Picasso. While Maya was both shocked and displeased with this news, she is now 77-years-old.  Her son Olivier states that she is “really not into authentications these days,” particularly after a recent fall and other health issues.  While those within the art world might breathe a sigh of relief over this letter, only time will tell if this new procedure will provide clarity regarding the authentication of Picasso’s works.

Information derived from:

Stolz, George. “Authenticating Picasso.” ARTnews, January 2, 2013.