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Plan foiled to sail off with portrait by Picasso

Spain could claim painting in private collection seized from banker's super yacht

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A painting by Picasso, Head of a Young Woman (1906), which French customs officials seized last week from a super yacht docked near Calvi in Corsica, is at the centre of a long-running legal case in Spain. In May, a judge ruled that the painting, which has an estimated value of more than €26m, is a national treasure and banned it from leaving Spain.

In Spain, any work of art more than 100 years old needs an export permit. Under its national heritage law, the state has first refusal in any proposed sale of works deemed to be national treasure.

"It dates from the period in which Picasso's interest in Iberian sculpture had a strong influence on his work," says Janie Cohen, a Picasso expert who is the director of the Fleming Museum of Art, the University of Vermont. "The similarities can be clearly seen between this work and Picasso's Self-portrait with Palette of 1906 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art."

Lawyers for Jamie Botín, a member of the Botín banking dynasty, are appealing against the court's decision, however. His lawyers argued that the work is owned by a shipping company (in which Botín is reported to be a shareholder) and was not on Spanish soil. The yacht, Adix, had been moored in Valencia before it set sail for Corsica. El País reports that Spain has requested the painting from the French authorities.

"We can only hope that Spain recovers the painting. This period in Picasso's work is not well represented in Spanish collections," Cohen says. "It would of course be ideal if this work at some point entered a public collection."