The trial of Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec begins in Paris today – in which the couple face charges of stealing 271 artworks by internationally renowned artist Pablo Picasso. The BBC reports that the Le Guennecs claim the collection – including a range of sketches, watercolours, lithographs and portraits – was a gift from Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline.
Le Guennec contends that he was employed at the Picasso estate as a handyman in 1970. According to the couple, Picasso’s wife, Jacqueline, handed him the works in a box to take home. The Le Guennecs then claim to have stored them in their garage until 2010, when they presented them to the Picasso administration for assessment while putting their affairs in order, due to their advancing years. The couple soon found themselves being arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen goods. The Telegraph reports that Mr Le Guennec explained his situation to the press in 2010.
“[Picasso] often invited me in to have some cake or a coffee. We talked about all things great and small with the master. One evening, I was leaving my work, when madame handed me a little package, saying, ‘This is for you’. When I returned home, I saw sketches, drawings – I knew nothing about it. If madame had given me a painting, on the other hand, that would have been odd.”
The accusations are being levelled by six of the descendants of Picasso, including Claude Picasso, who oversees the artist’s estate and was the official that initially inspected the pieces when Le Guennec presented them to the Picasso administration. The Telegraph reports that Jean-Jacques Neuer – lawyer for Claude Picasso – feels the story told by Mr and Mrs Le Guennec fails to hold up under scrutiny.
“They don’t remember whether they received the ‘gift’ in 1970, 71 or 72. If you are given Picassos, you remember it. You have to imagine that Picasso kept hold of them for 70 years and suddenly decided to give the lot away. Picasso signed his works at the last moment, to give them away or sell them.
“When you give a present, you choose something precise that fits the person. Picasso here is giving away works that have nothing to do with each other – notably extremely precious cubist collages that represent 10 per cent of his production. But also, two notebooks of drawings, work tools that he would never have given away. The issue is not whether Picasso was generous or not. Picasso wasn’t someone who was careless about his works; he didn’t give away any old how.”
Careless or not, the prolific output of Picasso has made him the most stolen artist in history – with more than 1000 paintings listed as stolen, missing or disputed. Just one of the contested pieces of artwork held by the Le Guennecs is valued at over 30 million euros. The BBC reports that, if convicted of the charges, Mr and Mrs Le Guennec could face up to five years imprisonment, along with a fine of up to 375,000 euros.
Pablo Picasso died in 1973, while his second wife, Jacqueline, took her own life in 1986. The trial of the Le Guennecs is expected to last for three weeks.
[Image via Europe 1]