The legal battle began in 2010, when Picasso's former handyman claimed the artist gave him the works as a gift.
A nearly decade-long saga has finally come to an end. This week, a French court ruled to uphold the conviction of Pablo Picasso’s former electrician, who hoarded 271 of Picasso’s works in his garage for 40 years.
According to Newsweek, the controversy first began in 2010 when Pierre Le Guennec, and his wife, Danielle, revealed they had a trove of rare pieces by the artist. Le Guennec, who did work on Picasso’s villa in Mougins during the 1970s, claimed the works were gifts from the painter himself.
In 2010, Le Guennec asked Claude Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s son, to authenticate the pieces. Claude confirmed the pieces were indeed the work of his famous father, but he suspected they weren’t gifts as the former Picasso employee claimed. Three days later, the police arrived at Le Guennec’s residence and seized 271 works of art from the man’s garage.
The confiscated Picasso pieces included a work from Picasso’s famous Blue Period, six oils on canvas, nine Cubist collages, 28 lithographs, and sketchbooks dating between 1900 and 1932. The trove of Picasso art was estimated to be worth between $74 million and $98 million.
According to the Picasso family, the artist never gave his work away without signing and dating it. All the art pieces found in Le Guennec’s possession were neither signed nor dated.
“If you see the Picasso estate and tell them these works fell from the sky or you picked them up from the bric-a-brac market, there is little chance anyone will believe you,” said Jean-Jacques Neuer, the family’s lawyer.
The questionable collection sparked a nearly decade-long fight from the Le Guennecs, who initially alleged the artist had given them the pieces as a thank you for Pierre’s service.
During the couple’s appeal, however, the former electrician changed his tune, claiming Picasso’s widow, Jacqueline, personally asked him to hide part of the collection after Picasso’s death in 1973.
In keeping with Jacqueline’s request, Le Guennec claimed, he kept more than a dozen garbage bags in his garage. The bags were filled with unmarked artwork made by Picasso, and were later returned to his widow. The couple claimed Picasso’s wife had gotten back all of the bags of art, except one, which they said she told them to keep.
But why on Earth would Picasso’s wife ask their handyman to store so much of the artist’s precious work? According to Le Guennec, Jacqueline wanted to keep the last bag of artwork hidden away from her stepson, Claude.
Eventually, the Le Guennecs were given two-year suspended jail terms in 2015 after they were convicted of possession of stolen goods. It meant the couple wouldn’t face jail time as long as they followed specific protocol. That verdict was upheld by a higher court a year later, but then got overturned by the Cour de Cassation, which ordered a retrial.
Now, the Le Guennecs have lost their appeal. The French court’s ruling to confirm the couple’s two-year suspended jail terms was “a triumph of truth,” according to Neuer.
“If you have 271 works by Picasso and you want to put them on the international market, you need a certificate of authenticity,” said Neuer, who compared the elderly couple to drug trafficking mules.
Pablo Picasso is considered to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and his works are revered as some of the most valuable pieces in the world.
“He was probably the first rock star in the artist world,” his grandson Olivier Widmaier Picasso, who is an author and TV producer, said of the successful artist.
His renowned artwork spans various mediums of sculpture, print, and ceramics, but he is most revered for his paintings. His paintings are so highly valued that his piece Les femmes d’Alger (Version) was sold at Christie’s for $179,365,000, making it one of the priciest paintings ever sold.
The genius artist may have passed on, but his art still lives.
Next, read about the woman who learned her ‘fake’ renaissance painting was actually a 700-year-old masterpiece and take a look at the giant trove of hidden Nazi artifacts found in Argentina.