Dealer Olivier Thomas Detained in France After Theft Accusations by Picasso Heir
Was a Russian billionaire duped into buying stolen works?
Following accusations from Picasso’s stepdaughter Catherine Hutin-Blay that Paris dealer Olivier Thomas stole three works from her, more details about the detainment are coming to light. Thomas—an associate of embattled luxury storage king Yves Bouvier—serves as chairman of Bouvier’s Le Freeport facility in Luxembourg, where dealers and collectors stashed some of their most valuable artworks.
Thomas was detained by French authorities this past Monday (May 11), as per The Wall Street Journal, though it is not clear whether he has been formally charged. Sources told artnet News that the Brigade de Repression du Banditisme, a special unit of the French Ministry of the Interior, is heading up the investigation.
Hutin-Blay’s lawyer, Anne-Sophie Nardon, told the Journal her client filed a complaint in March after becoming concerned that several pieces of her collection had been sold on the international market without her knowledge. Nardon, who did not respond to artnet News’s request for comment, told the Journal that her client’s concern was prompted in part by reading about the suit filed by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev against Yves Bouvier. Nardon said that suit appeared to show that Rybolovlev owns pieces of art that belong to Hutin-Blay.
Providing further detail, Le Figaro reports that Hutin-Blay claims Thomas stole three paintings from her: Rembrandt’s Man In A Gold Helmet (1656) and two portraits of her mother, Jacqueline Roque, who was Picasso’s second wife. The report does not identify the artist of the works—described as Femme se coiffant (1957) and Espagnnole à l’eventail (1957)—though, presumably they are by Picasso himself.
The paintings reportedly disappeared from Hutin-Blay’s home in Mougins, the artist’s last workshop, near Grasse in the south of France, where she asked Thomas to do inventory before moving the works to the Art Transit warehouse, a packaging, transport, and warehouse facility in Gennevilliers in the northwestern suburbs of Paris.
The case dates back to 2008, per Le Figaro, but a complaint was filed by Hutin-Blay on March 2. The report says she knew Thomas for years but that their relationship cooled considerably when, in late 2012, her access to her space in Art Transit was cut off under the pretense that only the art broker, Thomas himself, could enter. She was allowed access after threatening to call the police, and asked to have the lock changed but she did not notice any theft at the time.
Earlier this year, in a conversation with her restorer Flavio Capitulano, Hutin-Blay was surprised when he asked her whether she had really sold two portraits of her mother. Capitulano, Le Figaro reports, had been hired to restore the canvases in question at the freeport in Geneva in May 2012, at the request of none other than Yves Bouvier (see Arrest of Yves Bouvier Over Art Fraud Ring Rocks Art World and Accused of Art Fraud, Yves Bouvier Steps Down From Le Freeport).
In a March 17 story, Capitulano stated that in the course of work he performed between 2008 and 2014, he met Jean-Marc Peretti, an art dealer who owns the Nelombos Gallery in Geneva. Peretti asked Capitulano to visit Thomas in Paris in order to perform confidential restoration work on the three aformentioned works, Le Figaro says.
Capitulano said they were hanging in the premises of Natural Le Coultre, which Bouvier owns, and that a big client was supposed to examine them. Sources told the paper that the “big client” is the Rybolovlev family trust, which shelled out a reported €27 million ($30 million) for the three works.
The reports suggests the events are likely linked to a wider crackdown by French authorities on art trafficking as well as the dispute between Rybolovlev who says Bouvier defrauded him on sales of artwork he brokered.
artnet News received a press release via email from Le Freeport managing director David Arendt stating: “According to the press, the daughter of the last wife of Pablo Picasso alleged in Paris that works of the artist belonging to her would have been sold without her consent. Our Chairman of the Board, the well-known art consultant Mr Olivier Thomas, has been heard Tuesday and Wednesday in Paris. After the hearings Mr Olivier Thomas has been left free and remains available to cooperate with the judicial authorities.”
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