It is one of those palaces that are so rich in history, and yet seem to abound in the city of Paris. Its enormous legacy is only betrayed — and only partly at that — by a discreet plaque located near the entrance: “Pablo Picasso lived in this building between 1936 and 1955. This is where he painted Guernica in 1937.”
On the 40th anniversary of the artist’s death, the future of the Hôtel de Savoie, once home to the “Grenier de Picasso” (Picasso’s Attic), is up in the air. Its owners want to renovate it and rent it out to a new tenant. The association that has kept the memory of this place alive over the last decade, the Comité national pour l’éducation artistique (CNEA), was working out of the top floor free of charge, and must vacate the premises by July 26. Its representatives warn that the future of Picasso’s attic workshop is in danger, and say they have turned to one of the painter’s heirs to see whether they can remain in the building. Although a deal could be announced late this month, for the moment the eviction order remains in place.
Picasso settled down in the attic of 7, Rue des Grands Augustins in 1936, on the recommendation of the outgoing tenant, actor and theater director Jean-Louis Barrault, who had lived there the three previous years and named his first company, the Grenier des Augustins, after the street. This is also where Balzac set the action of one of his short stories, The Unknown Masterpiece, which Picasso particularly appreciated. It was this fact that prompted him to rent out the place.
“And so, in the place of the unknown masterpiece, he would paint the well-known masterpiece,” summed up the photographer Brassaï in his 1964 Conversations with Picasso. The poet Jacques Prévert created his Groupe Octobre there, and the Surrealists were regular visitors. “It was the ideal republic,” wrote Barrault himself in the 1972 Souvenirs pour demain (or, Memories for tomorrow).
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