Picasso’s Electrician, Pierre Le Guennec, Found Guilty, Must Return Paintings

French court doesn't buy electrician's story that Picasso gave him artworks.

Pierre Le Guennec in court in Grasse, southeastern France on February 10, 2015. Photo courtesy Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.

Pierre Le Guennec, the elderly electrician who claimed Pablo Picasso had given him 271 artworks, has been found guilty of possessing stolen goods. The French court handed a two-year suspended sentence to Le Guennec and his wife, Danielle, who will have to to return their ill-gotten art collection to the Picasso Administration.

The couple expressed their disappointment with the verdict, which their lawyer plans to appeal. “We’re honest people. Perhaps we don’t know how to speak,” Pierre told AFP. “We’re just little people. We don’t have a great name,” added Danielle.

The case was heard over three days last month.

Now 75, Le Guennec worked as an electrician for Picasso at his villa Notre-Dame-de-Vie in the early 1970s, shortly before the artist’s death in 1973.

In September of 2010, the Le Guennecs showed up in Paris with a crate of rare early Picassos: drawings, lithographs, portraits, and collages from the period 1900–32, thought to be worth as much as €120 million ($130 million). The pair claimed that Picasso’s wife, Jacqueline, had given them the works, saying, “this is for you.”

The Picasso Administration and the artist’s heirs recognized the works as genuine, but did not believe that the artist gave away such important pieces. “It’s a downright cheek to try and make us swallow that story,” Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, told reporters following the verdict.

The Picasso estate filed a complaint, giving rise to a police investigation, and the works were quickly confiscated.

The start of the trial was delayed as there was little evidence of theft. A court date was set once it was discovered that Pierre was a cousin and close friend of the wife of Picasso’s former chauffeur (both are now deceased), who is suspected of stealing a large number of works.

Throughout the proceedings, the Le Guennecs maintained they had come by the paintings honestly, and that Pierre and the artist had a special connection. “Picasso had total confidence in me,” he asserted.

Catherine Hutin-Blay, the artist’s granddaughter, who was acquainted with the electrician, did acknowledge their friendship. “We really trusted him,” she admitted during the trial, saying they had “an absolutely friendly relationship.”

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