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Picassos found in Tashkent

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 11:26 UK time, Friday, 26 October 2012

People say that God moves in mysterious ways. I often apply this saying to the phenomenon of artworks living their independent and sometimes incredible lives quite separately from their creators.

If you were told that the Tashkent State Museum of Arts was running its own exhibition of Picasso ceramics, you wouldn't believe it, would you?

But this is indeed the case. Twelve world-class pieces from the famous artist have been released from the vaults of the museum for the first time in 40 years.

Twelve works from Picasso on display in Tashkent

Until now nobody was aware of the existence of these masterpieces in the cellars of the museum, apart from one or two museum workers.

During and after World War II, Tashkent was somewhere the Russian and the Soviet cultural elite took refuge. Celebrities like the great poet Anna Akhmatova, writer Aleksey Tolstoy, artists and composers, countless counts and barons, coming back from the Stalinist camps or from abroad, were gathered in Tashkent - a safe, warm and prosperous oriental city.

They brought their collections and artefacts along with them too. When I was living in Tashkent I used to hear from time to time that someone was selling a Stradivarius violin, or the ivory chess set which had been used in a famous pre-war film about the lives of emperors, and so on...

But the story of Picasso's ceramics in Tashkent State Museum of Arts is a different one.

A Picasso plate in Tashkent

One of Picasso's closest friends, Fernand Léger, was married to a Ukrainian lady, whose name was Nadia.

Fernand and Nadia had a good collection of Picassos. When Fernand Léger died in 1955 this collection was inherited by Nadia, who decided to pass it onto the Soviet Museums.

By a Soviet system of dividends, or by some other historical accident, 12 pieces of ceramic art by Picasso found themselves in Uzbekistan - a country famous for its own ceramics.

Apparently the works were exhibited in the early sixties in Tashkent, but after exhibition everything was tucked away, and everyone somehow forgot about their existence.

A Picasso plate in Tashkent


Until one of the museum workers rediscovered them in 2004, by which time the Soviet Union was not around to claim the pieces back...

Uzbekistan is famous for its collections of avant-garde art. I wrote recently about the Savitsky Museum in Nukus, Karakalpakstan.

This week, 12 families of Italian tourists made their way from Italy to Nukus in their campervans to see that rare collection.

I'm sure that if they come to hear about the Picassos of Tashkent they will continue their journey along the new Silk Road...

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