Protecting artistic heritage
Repository: Fototeca del Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España, Madrid, Spain
Contributor: Tesoro Artístico español en la zona republicana
Fond or Collection
P156-11-3, File 3
Repository and Location
Fototeca del Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España, Madrid, Spain
Date Created: 1937-07-23
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Museo del Prado, Madrid
The rebels’ aerial bombardment of Madrid that began in November 1936 claimed the lives of many residents of the capital. It also posed a catastrophic threat to the country’s cultural and artistic patrimony that was housed in the city’s libraries and museums. This included one of the greatest art galleries in the world, the Prado, which was hit by bombs on 16 November.
When the government decided to move from Madrid to Valencia, it ordered the Prado to transfer its masterpieces to the new capital. Between 5 November 1936 and 5 February 1938, 22 convoys took 391 paintings and 181 drawings to Valencia. The photo shows a military vehicle that had been loaned for one of these transports minutes before its departure from Madrid. In Valencia, these works of art were stored in two historic buildings, the Torres de Serrano, a 14th century fortress, and the Colegio del Patriarca, a 16th century seminary, that had been specially prepared for them.
Valencia was not the end of the journey. With the Francoist advance to the Mediterranean threatening to sever Valencia from Catalonia, in March 1938 the government had the works of art moved to Figueras, just south of the border with France. Two of Goya’s greatest works: The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808, were damaged during the transport. Then, as the Francoists attacked Catalonia in January 1939, the government decided to send them to the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva, where they would be held until the end of the war. Between 4 and 9 February, 71 trucks carried the works of art into France where they were put on trains for Geneva on 12 February. They arrived there five days later. On 30 March, the day before the Civil War ended, the League of Nations transferred ownership of the artworks to Franco’s government. With the exception of a number of pieces that were exhibited in Geneva in the summer of 1939, their journey back to Spain began in May. Those works that were in the exhibition left Geneva on5 September and arrived in Madrid four days later.
By the time the final works of art returned to their home, World War II had already begun. The Republic’s efforts to protect its artistic treasures would serve as a lesson and a model during the new conflict. The Dutch moved Rembrandt’s Night Watch and thousands of other works of art to bunkers on the coast and then to a mine near Maastricht. The National Gallery in London sent its collection to a slate mine in Wales, and the Louvre transferred 3,690 objects to remote rural chateaux. By far the most massive operation took place in the Soviet Union: the Hermitage museum sent more than one million works of art to Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains where they remained for the rest of the war.