11 Picasso Works Stolen from German Bank’s Collection

The heist was kept under wraps for almost two years.

Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in Mougins, France, in 1971. Courtesy of RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images.
Portigon is being forced to sell its assets by the EU to pay back a bailout loan. Photo: Marek Gehrmann via Wikimedia Commons

Portigon headquarters in Düsseldorf
Photo: Marek Gehrmann via Wikimedia Commons.

Several artworks, including 11 lithographs by Pablo Picasso, were stolen from the corporate collection of Portigon AG, a financial services company from North Rhine-Westphalia.

Portigon was formed in 2012 as the legal successor WestLB, the Western German state Bank. A spokesperson for the company confirmed the theft this past Friday in Düsseldorf.

According to the Spiegel, the total insurance value of works stolen is estimated at €1.1 million ($1.2 million), but their market value could be much higher. In addition to the 11 lithographs from Picasso’s famous bull series, a painting by the expressionist Gabriele Münter is also missing from the vault.

This file pictured dated 13 October 1971 shows Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in Mougins, France. The town of Guernica will commemorate next 26 April 2007 the 70th anniversary of the 1937 bombing by planes of the German Luftwaffe "Condor Legion" and subordinate Italian Fascists from the Corpo Truppe Volontarie expeditionary force during the Spanish Civil War which resulted in widespread destruction and civilian death.    AFP PHOTO/RALPH GATTI (Photo credit should read RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pablo Picasso in Mougins, France, in October 1971.
Photo credit: RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images.

Der Spiegel reports that as early as in the winter of 2014, employees noticed that the vault, which was set up especially to store the art collection, has been opened at odd hours. A subsequent internal review showed that a total of 12 art objects had gone missing.

The bank then filed a complaint, and informed the state government, but the heist was largely kept under wraps, and in early 2016, police terminated their investigations.

“The investigations have produced no probable cause against any certain persons,” the spokesperson said. The missing works are now listed in the stolen art registry of the police.

Deutsche Welle reports that before the artworks were stored in a vault, they had decorated the branches of WestLB. The state-owned bank went bankrupt in the wake of the financial crisis, and was succeeded by Portigon.

The collection made headlines already in 2014, as the company wanted to sell works from their 380-piece holdings, which includes artworks by Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, and August Macke. 

The planned sale drew the wrath of the Association of German Art Historians who campaigned against it, expressing fears that art sales from state-owned collections could be increasingly used to repay debt.

Portigon finally agreed to leave the multi-million dollar collection in North Rhine-Westphalia and to sell the works to a state-owned foundation. 

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