Accused Picasso Thieves Are Heading to Trial

 

A French electrician and his wife, who made worldwide headlines four years ago when they were implicated in a major Picasso heist, are finally set to go to trial, according to The Art Newspaper. Pierre Le Guennec, 75, and his wife, Danielle, 71, are due to appear in criminal court in Grasse, in the south of France, on February 10, to face charges that they had retained for more than 30 years, and recently tried to sell, a trove of stolen Picasso works valued in the vicinity of $100 million.

Le Guennec, who resides in southern France, worked on several electrical jobs for Picasso at his villa Notre-Dame-de-Vie in the early 1970s, during the last two years of the artist’s life. Le Guennec claims that Picasso gifted him at that time more than 200 works, including many rare drawings and collages created between 1900 and 1932, the period most coveted by Picasso collectors. As first reported in 2010 by the French journal Liberation, and covered by the The New York Times as well as many other publications, authorities claimed that the Le Guennecs stole the works from the artist’s home and kept them hidden in their garage until the time when the statute of limitations for claims of stolen art had passed.

The case came to light when the Le Guennecs brought the artworks to Paris in 2010, to have them authenticated by Claude Picasso, the artist’s son. When the couple appeared with the works at the Picasso Administration offices, in September 2010, they didn’t realize they would ignite a firestorm. Picasso’s heirs recognized the works as genuine, but also acknowledged that the artist would never have given away works of this quality and importance. Lawyers representing the heirs quickly went into action; several weeks later, French police confiscated the works from the Le Guennecs’ home near Grasse.

Since then, however, legal proceedings against the couple have stalled due to the lack of hard evidence that the works were, in fact, stolen. Recent evidence links the Le Guennecs to the late widow of Picasso’s chauffeur, who is also suspected of stealing large quantities of Picasso’s work. The woman turns out to have been Pierre Le Guennec’s cousin and close friend. Was it all a conspiracy to rob the frail and aged artist, who died in 1973 at 91? The newest litigation, initiated by Catherine Hutin-Blay, the daughter of Picasso’s widow Jacqueline, aims to unravel the mysterious crime and recover the prized collection.

 


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