Eugenio Arias: Friend and barber to Picasso

Forced by poverty to leave school early, barely literate, Eugenio Arias learned barbering from his uncle and had a life common to many who fled Spain under Franco to seek a new life in France – except for his long friendship with Pablo Picasso.

A man with a thirst for culture, and love of his birthplace, Arias founded a Picasso museum in the small town of Buitrago el Lozoya, north of Madrid, with the 60 paintings and artworks given to him by the Spanish-born artist during 26 years of friendship and hair-trimming.

Arias's father was a tailor, his mother a shepherdess. He was inspired by his schoolteacher, but at 11 was sent to work. His uncle ran a barber's in the town, and taught the boy the trade. When the uncle died a few years later, young Eugenio Arias took over the shop, which was more than just a barber's: it boasted a little library where many locals learned to read, and gathered for discussions about theatre. Eugenio took part in a theatre group run by the local education inspector.

A Communist sympathiser, he helped set up a party group in 1931. He fought – and cut comrades' hair – throughout the Civil War, first in Somosierra and later in Teruel, where he received a leg wound that gave him a limp for the rest of his life. When the republic was defeated in 1939, Arias fled to France and joined the Resistance. At a meeting in Toulouse to honour Spaniards who fought against the Nazis, the Spanish Communist leader Dolores Ibárruri, "La Pasionaria", introduced him to Picasso, who was already famous. After the end of the Second World War, Arias opened, in 1948, a barber's in Vallauris, in the French Midi, where Picasso had one of his homes.

The artist became a regular client, and arranged for Arias to visit him every month in his various houses in Vallauris, Cannes and Mougins. Picasso even gave his barber a car to make sure he need never miss an appointment. A warm friendship developed. They played cards and went to bars together, but despite political affinities, talked rarely of politics, rather of day-to-day matters, of bullfights and their nostalgia for Spain. Arias described Picasso as "a second father to me; he treated me as a son". His own parents, unable to get a passport, could never visit him in France.

When Arias married his companion and fellow Resistance combatant Simona Francoual, in 1950, Picasso was best man. And when the artist died in 1973, Arias wrapped him in a Spanish cape sent by his mother, and sat beside him all night.

Picasso's barber displayed his art collection initially in his shop in Vallauris, turning down succulent offers from rich German and Japanese art-lovers. When the dictator Franco died in 1975, Arias returned to Buitrago and donated all the gifts he had received during his years of friendship with the artist to the local council. Buitrago's Picasso Museum opened in 1985 and became a landmark on the Picasso trail in Spain.

Elizabeth Nash

Eugenio Arias Herranz, barber: born Buitrago del Lozoya, Spain 15 November 1909; married 1950 Simona Francoual (one son); died Vallauris, France 28 April 2008.

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