The lawyer and politician Roland Dumas (Limoges, France, 1922) occupied a wide range of positions throughout his career, none more so than during François Mitterand’s government, where he served as minister of Foreign Relations (1981–1986) and Foreign Affairs (1988—1993). At the end of the 1960s, Pablo Picasso named Dumas executor of his will and entrusted him with the mission of fulfilling his wishes regarding Guernica. After the artist’s death, in the capacity of lawyer and intermediary between his heirs, Dumas played a key role in the negotiations to bring the painting to Spain.
Roland Dumas was born into a politically active family; his father, affiliated with the Socialist Party, was arrested and shot in France in 1944 during the Vichy regime. From a young age, Dumas was affiliated with the Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (MUR), which fought against the German occupation and the Vichy regime during the Second World War. After the war, he finished his studies in Law in Paris, in addition to studying at the London School of Economics and École Libre de Sciences Politiques in the French capital. His political career began as a representative for the Haute-Vienne region — already with leanings towards François Mitterand’s ideology, years later he would join Mitterand’s government at the helm of different ministries. Subsequently, he took over as president of the Constitutional Council, a position he would resign from after the Elf scandal, which involved the embezzlement of funds linked to the oil company and saw Dumas convicted. In 2013 he published the biography Dans l’œil du Minotaure. Le labyrinthe de mes vies.
A number of Dumas’ friends and clients had ties to the art world, for instance his legal client Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who introduced him to Picasso. The artist later hired his services when, at the end of the 1960s, Franco’s government initiated diplomatic arrangements to bring Guernica to Madrid and attempted to close ranks with Picasso. Therefore, the painter, also through Dumas, set the conditions for the painting’s return to Spain: Picasso expressed his wishes in a document which declared “Guernica appartient au peuple espagnol et à la République” (Guernica belongs to the Spanish people and the Republic), a statement which although beautiful was ultimately ambiguous in a court of law.
In 1969, Dumas warned William Lieberman, the then director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, that transferring Guernica to Spain went against Picasso’s wishes. After the death of Francisco Franco, in November 1975, and two years after the death of the artist, Dumas became the lawyer for his heirs, defending their moral rights over the work and acting as a spokesperson with the Spanish government. In 1978 Roland Dumas confirmed that Guernica would be transported to Spain, a decision of which he had always been in favour. Nevertheless, he also pointed out that a series of democratic advances were still found wanting and pinpointed the “Basque problem” as the main obstacle to overcome for the painting’s delivery. In carrying out his remit, he held talks in Spain with Javier Tusell and Adolfo Suárez, and set up meetings with José Mario Armero, the lawyer entrusted by the government to deal with the ensuing legal procedures.