50,000 raffle tickets are up grabs for a chance to win “The Man with the Opera Hat,” a cubist work nearly 100 years old. All proceeds will go to finance two arts and cultural projects in the UNESCO World Heritage city.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour spoke with Olivier Picasso – the painter’s grandson and the public face of the initiative – sitting in front of the small canvas.
“It's something that normally you find in a museum,” Picasso said. Sitting next to it, in person, not seeing it in a book, is a whole different ballgame, he said.
“When you are in contact with something that my grandfather, that Picasso, touched, it's really a different feeling.”
If the price of the auction tickets is unusual, so is the cause: The rescue of Tyre, a city devastated by decades of military conflict, including Lebanon’s 15-year-long civil war. More recently, it has seen an influx of refugees from neighboring Syria.
“You know, I'm French; I'm not primarily concerned by Lebanon or Tyre,” Picasso said. “But I understood the importance of this city.”
“It's always difficult to maintain an old, an ancient city,” he said – not only because of decaying architecture, but because Tyre is still active and lived in.
The cause is important not only to maintain the physical structures, but also “to preserve the traditions.”
The idea, Picasso explained, came from his friend, who was fed up with “boring” charity dinners – it was her who approached him about auctioning one of his grandfather’s works.
Olivier was too young to have met his grandfather, but with a name like “Picasso” the legacy is hard to escape.
“He was part of the family … part of my life, as a child, with paintings on the walls and drawings and photos.”
Because he never knew his grandfather, he explored his own truth over years, “like discovering that he had many women and discovering that he was supposed to be a Communist – but also a billionaire, that he was someone old and not cherishing his friends and family.”
One of those many women was Olivier’s own grandmother, Marie-Therese Walter.
Picasso’s portrait of Walter, "Le Reve,” set a record when it was sold earlier this year for $155 million.
Walter was 17 when she met Picasso, then 46, at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
“He told her, ‘Mademoiselle, I would like to make your portrait,’” Oliver said. “She said, "Mmm, you and I, we're going to make great things together.’”
“When he died, I realized later that my grandmother has lost a link to the exceptional life; she was now back to ordinary daily life. And four years later, she killed herself.”
Were any of Picasso’s artistic talents passed down to his grandson, Amanpour asked.
“I've tried, but it's easy to be a banker after a banker,” Oliver said. “But to be a Picasso after Picasso, it's really difficult.”