U.S. Returns Stolen Picasso Painting To French Government

The U.S. returns a stolen Picasso painting to France this week, and the occasion was marked by a ceremony at the French Embassy. The painting La Coiffeuse (The Hairdresser) was confiscated in December by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Newark, New Jersey.

La Coiffeuse was painted by Picasso in 1911, and belongs to the National Museums of France. The exact date the painting was stolen is unknown, as it was housed in the archives of Centre Pompidou, and it wasn’t until the painting was requested for an exhibit in India in 2001 that the museum realized it was gone.

The painting was part of a FedEx shipment that departed Belgium, and was headed for Queens, New York. U.S. Immigration and Customs agents found the package suspicious, as it was marked as “Art Craft,” was insured for 30 euros ($37), and marked “Joyeux Noel” (Merry Christmas), but it was to be sent to climate controlled storage.


The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department (ICE) seized the painting and had it authenticated. It was then determined that the “Art Craft” was actually Picasso’s La Coiffeuse, and that it is worth an estimated $15 million.


“A lost treasure has been found,” said Loretta E. Lynch, then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in an interview with FOX News after the December discovery. “Because of the blatant smuggling in this case, this painting is now the subject of forfeiture to the United States. Forfeiture, of the painting will extract it from the grasp of the black market in stolen art so that it can be returned to its rightful owner.”

And so it has been. The U.S. returned the stolen Picasso to the French government in a ceremony at the French Embassy.

“Returning to the Musee National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, France [La Coiffeuse] will come back to life and be seen again by the public thanks to this outstanding Franco-American customs cooperation,” said Frederick Dore, Deputy Chief of Mission at the French Embassy, in an interview with the Washington Post.

The last time La Coiffeuse was publicly displayed was in 1988 in Munich, Germany. While the painting is now in the hands of the French, there have been no reported arrests in connection with the smuggling attempt.

But La Coiffeuse is not the only Picasso painting to make recent headlines. While the U.S. returned a Picasso to France, France returned a different Picasso, Head of a Young Woman, to Spain this week.

Head of a Young Woman, a Picasso from 1906, estimated to be worth $28.7 million, was seized from a yacht off the coast of Corsica by French Customs agents.

Picasso’s Head of a Young Woman is considered a national treasure to the country of Spain, and though it is privately owned, it is not allowed to leave the country.

The painting’s owner Jaime Botin was denied permission to export the painting, and was stopped on the yacht in Corsica on July 31, in what was said to be an attempt to export the painting to Switzerland, according to the Sun Daily.

Also in France, Pierre Le Gunnec, said to have once been Picasso’s handyman, was handed a two-year suspended sentence for possession of stolen goods as he had been hiding 271 works by Picasso in his garage for over 40 years.

Le Guennec said he was given the artwork by Picasso’s wife Jacqueline upon Picasso’s death in 1973. And it wasn’t until Le Guennec took the art to Paris for authentication in 2010 that Picasso’s heirs became aware, and filed a complaint against Le Guennec and his wife.

“Picasso had total confidence in me,” said Le Guennec according to BBC News on MSN. “Maybe it was my discretion.”

[Images courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]

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