Paintings stolen during Spanish civil war by Franco forces returned to family

Two paintings stolen from an aristocrat by forces of the Spanish dictator Franco have been returned to the family 85 years later. 

Its return could see the recovery of other assets and artworks seized during the Spanish civil war following the release of a list of 62 artworks taken during the 1936-39 conflict. 

On Thursday Madrid’s Prado museum released the list which featured paintings by 17th century Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Younger and Spanish impressionist Joaquin Sorolla. 

Franspourbus
Portrait of a Gentleman by Frans Pourbus the Younger is one of the two stolen paintings.

The two centuries-old museum said in a statement it had set up a research team to return the artworks to their original owners and determine if there were other works that were also confiscated. 

“The project aims to clarify any doubts that may exist regarding the works’ history and context prior to their cession to the Prado’s collections, which, in fulfillment of all legal requirements, may result in works being returned to their legitimate owners,” it said.

The two recovered paintings – portraits by Vicente Lopez Portaña and the Flemish painter Frans Pourbus – were tracked down by Ramon de la Sota Chalbaud, the great grandson of Ramon de la Sota y Llano, the Marquis of Llano.  

In 2018 his cousin spotted the paintings in an online catalogue of an exhibition at the Mapfre Foundation in Madrid.

The portraits had been lent to the exhibition by the Parador de Almagro, part of a chain of state-owned hotels. 

Spanish Civil War 1936
More than half a million people died during the Spanish Civil War. Photo: Berliner Verlag

De la Sota y Llano, a Basque industrialist, was awarded a KBE by George V for lending his fleet to help the British in the First World War. 

He became a target for Franco because of his Basque nationalist sympathies, with dictator forces going after De la Sota y Llano’s properties in Bilbao in 1937. 

His death in 1936 did not stop Francoists trying De la Sota y Llano 13 months later.

They imposed fines equivalent to €4 million on his family and confiscated his art collection.

The works are on show at the Bilbao Fine Art Museum this month.

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