“Seized” Picasso Reappears at Marcos Residence
By Pamela Wong
*updated May 30, 2022
Following Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s landslide victory in the Philippines’ presidential election last week, recently released footage shows a confiscated painting by Pablo Picasso supposedly still hanging on the wall at the home of his mother, Imelda Marcos. Online commentators immediately drew attention to the canvas of a reclined nude woman as one of the 15 paintings listed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) as confiscated from the Marcos’s San Juan home on September 30, 2014.
The exact title and date of the composition, and whether the artwork on Imelda’s wall is an original painting or a replica is unknown, as anti-corruption authorities and the National Museum have not certified whether the canvas seized in 2014 is a real Picasso. Initial media reports described the canvas as Femme Couchée VI (1932) while the style is more reflective of Picasso’s later style, and subsequently has been identified as Nu Assis Appuyé sur des Coussins VI (1964). According to the report by local media outlet Rappler, however, the former PCGG chairperson Andres Bautista responded to the recent discovery by saying: “Personally I know that what we seized was a fake. It was a tarpaulin so [the real one]’s still with them.”
During their two-decade rule, the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family embezzled an estimated USD 10 billion from the country, which they infamously used to buy properties and luxury goods for themselves, including artworks—many of which were fakes. The Picasso painting, or its replica, along with others seized by the PCGG, were originally in the custody of the Philippines central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). After the PCGG’s raid, the BSP noted that it “does not vouch for the authenticity and genuineness of the 15 paintings or the other paintings.” In 2015, the paintings were transferred to the National Museum, but the title of the Picasso work on the list was changed to “Picasso Replica Bass Strokes,” leading to uncertainty about whether the museum was certifying it had custody of an original or a replica.
Since a popular uprising forced the Marcoses into exile in 1986, the PCGG has been chasing more than USD 7 billion in assets, including hundreds of paintings and antiques that were allegedly acquired illegally by the Marcoses. In 2008, PCGG had applied for a court order to confiscate some of the paintings at Imelda’s office and four of her homes in the Philippines, including the Picasso painting, but the procedure had been obstructed as the Marcoses opposed every move, until a search warrant was finally issued in 2014. Only the raid at the San Juan home was reported to be “successful” but for the rest of the raids in October, only pale patches were left on the wall and Imelda was “crying into her handkerchief.” This is a tactic that the Marcoses have previously employed, including for the PCGG’s search of the 23 paintings—originally hung on the walls of the president’s palace—at their New York town house on East 66th Street in the late 1980s. All the paintings there were reportedly “missing.”
Multiple times in the past, Imelda has posed in front of her paintings for interviews. Some of the family’s illegally acquired paintings were also captured in the 2019 documentary, The Kingmaker. Imelda is also known for buying fakes. As former PCGG commissioner Ruben Carranza has pointed out that there’s a possibility that even the paintings at her home are replicas. Imelda’s personal secretary was convicted by a New York court in 2014 for tax fraud and conspiracy for secretly keeping and selling artworks including a Claude Monet painting of water lilies for USD 32 million to a London gallery.
Bongbong Marcos, the only son of the country’s former dictator, won more than 31 million votes in the recent election, which marks the notorious family’s return to power in the Philippines. The fate of ongoing efforts to recover the family’s plundered wealth now remains uncertain.