Happy Birthday To Picasso — Artist AND Art Thief

Pablo Picasso is considered one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century. He left an enormous body of artwork behind, from his famous Blue Period all the way up through cubism, which he is attributed with creating. After all, he painted for nearly 80 of his total 91 years, believing suspiciously that his work would actually keep him alive.

Pablo Picasso is known for many things — the intensity of his work, the daring of his painting, his well-known womanizing ways and ultra-male machismo…

But he was, apparently, also something of an art thief. And that’s meant literally — not that Picasso stole ideas but that he stole actual pieces of art. And not just from any old place, but from the Louvre, one of the world’s largest and most famous museums of art.

Picasso moved to Paris in 1900 and quickly surrounded himself with fellow artists and poets. The group referred to themselves as La Banda Picasso. The group would literally roam the streets of Paris together, at a time when they had no money for even coal to heat the tiny apartment some of them shared with Picasso, searching for artistic inspiration.

At this time, the Louvre began to display primitive sculptures from Iberia, dating from around the 3rd or 4th century BC. Picasso felt himself drawn to these figures for a number of reasons — including the fact that they originated from Spain, his home country. Picasso openly admired the sculptures, and a man who moved on the outside fringes of La Banda Picasso, Géry Pieret, from Belgium, thought that the little Iberian figures could be a source of income for him.

Pieret stole two of the Iberian sculptures, and then presented them to Pablo, who paid the man 50 francs a piece for the little figures, even knowing that they must be stolen. But Picasso was enamored of the sculptures, using the faces as inspiration for many of his first masterpieces, including Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), a painting that many critics saw as the antitheses of the Mona Lisa.

Excerpt from Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Pieret left France soon after, but returned only to steal yet another statue from the Louvre to present to another member of La Banda Picasso, Apollinaire. Pieret handed the statue over to Apollinaire, who didn’t want it, and asked Pieret to leave. Pieret did leave… and left the statue behind.

All of this occurred on the same day that the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre.

A reward was offered by police, and,feeling spurned as well as motivated by greed, Pieret told the police that Apollinaire had, in his apartment, stolen artwork from the Louvre, including the little Iberian statues of Picasso’s — Apollinaire was holding them for Pablo, who was traveling at the time.

The police arrested Apollinaire, and throughout the course of questioning, the man, once a close member of La Banda Picasso, incriminated Pablo Picasso himself, who was quickly arraigned. The police believed they would be able to link the two men, who both had possession of stolen pieces from the Louvre, to the actual theft of the Mona Lisa.

Eventually, the two men were found to be innocent in the theft of the Mona Lisa, although it was evident that they were in possession of stolen property from the Louvre. Picasso maintained, however, that he had no idea that the two little Iberian statues — statues that he had admired himself at the Louvre — had been stolen.

Of course.

Today, Picasso’s works are still much sought after and relevant in the art world. In fact, there is an upcoming sale of his work, through Sotheby’s in New York, that will offer 125 different works of Picasso, including etchings, paintings, and sculptures. The auction takes place on November 3, and one of Picasso’s paintings, a portrait of his famous “golden muse” and lover Marie-Thérèse, is expected to fetch between $4 to $6 million alone.

Pablo Picasso himself is famously known for saying, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” But who knew he meant it literally?

For more on Pablo Picasso, read about the man who bought one of his paintings for only $135, or the “hidden painting” found underneath his work The Blue Room.

[Images via MoMA.org and apartfrommyart.com]