The evacuation of works from the Prado Museum in 1936 is one of the most emblematic episodes of our Civil War. In the first months of the contest, the Republican government decided to preserve that heritage by moving it away from a bombed Madrid. But those trucks that under the direction of Timoteo Pérez Rubio transported Riberas and Goyas for half of Spain - and then for half of Europe - are only part of a much broader history: that of the hazards of our artistic heritage during the war and postwar .

This will be one of the axes of the congress ' Museum, war and postwar. Heritage protection in military conflicts' , to be held at the Prado Museum between October 9 and 11. The meeting, led by the professor of the Complutense University of Madrid Arturo Colorado, will address classic issues such as transfers of works that were made during the war. But it will also deal with less known aspects, such as the plundering of works belonging to individuals.

This matter has begun to receive attention in recent years. In the collective book Cultural heritage, civil war and postwar (Fragua), the researcher Teresa Díaz Fraile explains that the republican authorities gathered during the war about 38,000 artistic pieces from public and private collections. After the war, the Artistic Recovery Service of the Franco regime restored most of its owners. However, a percentage of those works fell between the cracks of the system. Some disappeared during the transfers while the fate of others was marked by the fact that their owners were exiled Republicans. Now, investigators use seizure and return records to find out what happened to them. The objective is not only to deepen our historical knowledge, but also to provide documents that help the descendants of those families to claim their heritage.

An illustrative case is that of Mariana Carderera, great-granddaughter of collector Valentín Carderera y Solano. At the end of the war she went into exile in the United States with her husband, the colonel of the Republican army José Sicardo. In their flight they had to leave behind a private collection that included paintings signed by Goya, Velázquez, Durero and Sorolla. His descendants denounce that many of these works were claimed by military and aristocrats close to the regime, taking advantage of the absence of their rightful owners. The lax recovery system of the Recovery Service would have facilitated such fraud. "My grandparents were forced into forced exile," Carlos Colón Sicardo, a descendant of Sicardo and Carderera, tells EL MUNDO; "Their assets were seized and part of that assets was disgracefully handed over to third parties or placed in government institutions and related to the Regime." Now he wants "justice to be done" by recovering that heritage.

Legal difficulties

The legal basis for claiming these assets are complex. Rafael Mateu and Laura Sánchez Gaona, lawyers from the Department of Art Law of Ramón y Cajal Abogados who currently advise the descendants of Sicardo, and who will intervene in the Prado Congress, point out that the Historical Memory Law did not create any specific mechanism for This type of claims.

Nor are there sufficient mechanisms within international law, despite the conventions that have emerged regarding the Nazi plunder. The Washington Principles and the Terezin Declaration indicate the willingness of the signatory countries (among which Spain is) to facilitate the return of depleted works to their owners or to compensate them properly. However, Mateu and Sánchez Gaona explain that they are non-binding statements, so the frame of reference remains the legislation of each country. This was evident in the recent dispute between the Thyssen Museum and the Cassirer family regarding a painting by Pissarro. The sale of the work in the context of the Nazi plunder led to its entry into the market and its subsequent acquisition for the Thyssen Collection. A court ruled that, despite the provisions of international conventions, the relevant framework is Spanish law and, according to this, the museum legitimately acquired the painting.

The main tool available for those contemplating claims processes remains, therefore, the Civil Code, especially as regards unduly stolen property. However, Sánchez Gaona believes that "the Historical Memory Law should be updated to create specific mechanisms for these claims . " According to the lawyer, this would speed up the existing processes and could encourage families who, given the difficulty of claiming, had not tried to recover the assets of their ancestors. The works that left the Prado ended up returning, but many of the plots that began then come to this day.

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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