News flashed around the world in 2010. “Never before has such an important ensemble of works – completely unknown until now – been found in private hands”, exclaimed Anne Baldassari, then the director of the Musée Picasso in Paris. But the facts behind the discovery of the works are about to be played out in the French courts.
Pierre Le Guennec, 75, a retired electrician, and his wife Danielle, 71, have been remanded to appear at Grasse criminal court on 10th February. The couple face charges of receiving stolen goods. Anne-Sophie Nardon, a solicitor who is acting on behalf of Catherine Hutin-Blay – the daughter of Jacqueline Picasso, the artist’s widow – has launched proceedings to recover the collection.
The French electrician and his wife, were implicated in the major Picasso theft, are now finally set to go to trial, and face charges that they had retained the collection of Picasso works for more than 30 years, and recently tried to sell the elicit trove valued in the vicinity of £60 million.
Le Guennec, who resides in southern France, worked on several electrical jobs for the great artist at his villa Notre-Dame-de-Vie in the early 1970s, during the last two years of Picasso’s life. The electrician claims that Picasso gifted him at that time more than 200 works, which would be found to include many rare drawings and collages created between 1900 and 1932. This is the period most coveted by Picasso collectors – reported in 2010 by the French journal Liberation – the French authorities claimed that the Le Guennecs stole the works from the artist’s home and kept them hidden until the time limit on the statute of limitations for claims of stolen art had passed.
Le Guennec told the Telegraph in 2010: “I worked for Monsieur and Madame Picasso from 1970 to 1973, and for Madame for another three years until 1976 after Monsieur died. They both gave me paintings, and on one occasion she gave me a box containing lots of sketches and canvases, perhaps 100 of them, saying ‘Here, this is for you.’ The electrician contined “Perhaps they were happy with my work as their electrician and wanted to show their kindness. I don’t know. I didn’t steal them, and am horrified that people think I could of done”.
The case reached the attention of the press in 2010 when the Le Guennecs brought the artworks to be authenticated by Claude Picasso, the artist’s son. But after the couple appeared the Picasso Administration offices, Picasso’s heirs recognised the works as genuine, but they also acknowledged that the artist would never have given away works of this quality and importance and in such quantity. Only a matter of weeks later French police confiscated the works from the Le Guennecs’ home near Grasse.
But since the instigation of Legal action against the Le Guennecs’, the proceedings against the couple have stalled because of a lack of hard evidence, with the courts finding it impossible to prove that the works were stolen and not gifted by the artist. But now new evidence has come to light that links the Le Guennecs to the late widow of Picasso’s chauffeur, who is also suspected of stealing large quantities of the artist’s work. The widow also happens to be Pierre Le Guennec’s cousin.