Javier Tusell (Barcelona, 1945 – Barcelona, 2005) was a historian and politician who, as general director of Artistic Heritage, Archives and Museums, was in charge of managing the delivery and final transfer of Guernica from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to Madrid in 1981. His intervention was crucial to diplomatic relations with the museum and in the investigation into the legitimate ownership of the painting and the corresponding rights, as well as negotiations with Pablo Picasso’s heirs.
Tusell gained a degree in History and Political Science in Barcelona and a PhD in History from the Complutense University of Madrid, before working at the aforementioned university as a professor, and performing the same role at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Valencia, and Spain’s National Distance Education University (UNED), where he reached the rank of full professor in Contemporary History. Tusell was also a prolific writer, penning essays on the political history of different periods of Spanish history and literature on art.
Tusell’s political life, as a member of the Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD), saw him elected councillor of Madrid from 1979 to 1982, and general director of the Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts, an organisation which would later become the General Directorate of Artistic Heritage, Archives and Museums. It was from this post that he served as the highest authority in the governmental procedures implemented to bring Guernica and its accompanying paintings and preparatory drawings, always viewed by Picasso as one inseparable unit, to Spain.
Over the course of the negotiations, Tusell, as a mediator and researcher, conducted a thorough analysis of the documents conserved in Spain’s national archives with regard to the ownership of the painting, from the time of its execution for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition of 1937. Shortly after 1979, confirmation from the New York Museum and a ruling from the US Senate that Guernica would be transferred to Spain prompted Spain’s Ministry of Culture to decide to place Tusell in charge of personally dealing with all transfer-related issues due to the political, diplomatic and inheritance issues that kept on surfacing. Tusell maintained that although the heirs, advised by the French lawyer Roland Dumas, possessed the moral rights to the work, the ownership rights were a different matter. He struggled against the political and media debates raging around the issue, and had to deal with requests from the Guernika municipality, as well as arguing for the democratic benefits and the public safety that would be gained. On 20 February 1980, Tusell, Rafael Fernández Quintanilla and representatives from the Museum of Modern Art signed an agreement establishing the deadlines and delivery conditions of the painting, and its accompanying works. It was agreed that the work would be handed over in 1981, in the wake of the major Picasso retrospective being planned by the New York museum to bid farewell to one of the most salient works from its collection. From that point on, the transfer was presented and understood as a symbolic act made towards restoring democracy in Spain.