By Sangwon Yoon
UNITED NATIONS —
UNITED NATIONS — The 4,700-year-old Phoenician city of Tyre, assaulted by Egyptians and Babylonians, by Alexander the Great and the Crusaders, has found a defender with a famous lineage.
Olivier Widmaier Picasso, a grandson of Pablo Picasso, the Spanish-born titan of 20th century painting, is offering the opportunity to own one of his grandfather’s original drawings, which he says is valued at $1 million, for $136.
An online lottery for the small 1914 cubist drawing “L’Homme au Gibus,” or “The Man with the Opera Hat,” closes on Dec. 18, and the odds have been set at 1 to 50,000, which is 750,000 times more favorable than those is the New York State lottery.
“My grandfather loves to be a pioneer in everything, from his personal life, his sentimental life, to his work at the atelier,” Picasso, 52, said Sunday in New York. “I know that he would have said yes to this. I feel like continuing the process for him.”
The International Association to Save Tyre, established to protect the UNESCO World Heritage site on the southern coast of Lebanon just north of the Israeli border, is raffling off the masterpiece to raise about $5 million.
The association is selling 100-Euro ($135 U.S.) tickets on the raffle’s website, 1 Picasso for 100 Euros, until the Dec. 18 drawing at Sotheby’s in Paris. The French foreign, interior and finance ministries approved the online lottery, which is capped at 50,000 tickets.
The goal is to fund an artisans’ village and a cultural institute to support economic development and preservation and research on a city steeped in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Christian history.
The port city is “above and beyond any kind of political ideas or religions” and is linked to a rich civilization, Olivier Picasso said. “I know my grandfather, who gave a lot of time for people and causes and also for important movements, would have supported this.”
Modern history has been as cruel to Tyre as ancient and medieval times were. The city was badly damaged during Lebanon’s civil war in 1975 to 1990 and by Israel’s campaigns against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Shiite Muslim organization Hezbollah, which the U.S., the European Union and Israel consider a terrorist organization.
The latest assault is an influx of more than 800,000 refugees and the spillover sectarian violence from the civil war in neighboring Syria, which began in March 2011. Tyre is a stronghold of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against 1,200 armed groups.
Economic growth in Lebanon has slowed to an average of 1.5 percent in the last two years from 7 percent in 2010, according to the International Monetary Fund. Tourism, more than one-fifth of the economy in 2010, shrank 12.5 percent in the first six months of this year after Persian Gulf monarchies warned their citizens against visiting. The slowdown and the influx of Syrian refugees may double the unemployment rate to more than 20 percent in 2014, the World Bank said in September.
Peri Cochin, a French-Lebanese journalist and television producer who helps raise funds for the International Association to Save Tyre, came up with the idea while searching for an innovative way to increase global awareness for the city where she was raised.
“I didn’t consider any other artist but Picasso because that is the kind of household name brand that you need for everyone around the world to know about a 4,000-year-old city that remains largely unattended to,” Cochin said Sunday in the interview with Olivier Picasso.
With the help of a “very generous” anonymous donor, the association bought the drawing from a private New York gallery in early 2012, Cochin said. It took almost two years to get official authorization, as raffles and lotteries in France are run by the state, she added.
“L’Homme au Gibus,” which measures 30.5 x 24 centimeters (12 x 9.4 inches) and bears the artist’s penciled signature in the upper-right corner, is an example of the synthetic cubist period that shows Picasso’s use of color to represent perspective, Olivier Picasso said.
The drawing reflects the inspiration Picasso had two years before he designed the set and costumes for the 1916-1917 show “Parade,” his collaboration with the French writer Jean Cocteau and the Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev on the first surrealist stage production, he said.
Olivier Picasso interpreted that his grandfather drew a man in a top hat in response to the French high society he encountered when he moved in 1912 from the bohemian Montmartre area of Paris to the more “chic” St. Germain de Pres with his then-lover Eva Gouel.
“Much later, Picasso says those years, 1912-1915, with Eva were the best times of his life,” said Olivier Picasso, whose grandmother is Marie-Therese Walter, one of the artist’s many mistresses. Walter was 28 years younger than Pablo Picasso.
When asked if the artist’s best times were not with his grandmother, Olivier Picasso said his grandfather “probably would say the same of every woman” he was with.
“But he is not the only man to say that,” Olivier said.