The trial opened yesterday of the former handyman of the artist Pablo Picasso and his wife in Paris. They are accused of stealing 271 artworks by the 20th century master. The horde included paintings, lithographs, watercolours and sketches executed between 1900 and 1932.
Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec have stated that the works of art were gifted to them in exchange for their loyalty and for work carried out in the 1970s. The 80m euro (£50m) gift was presented to them by Picasso’s second wife Jacqueline. The Picasso estate has shed doubt on their account calling it “ridiculous” and are suing them for the illegal possession of the art.
The foundation is run by Picasso’s son Claude who has said his father would “never” have given such a large quantity of works to anyone. He told a French daily newspaper: “That doesn’t stand up. These works were part of his life.”
If found guilty by the court a prison sentence will be the outcome for the elderly couple. The Le Guennec’s insist that he and his wife Danielle were given 180 lithographs, collages and paintings and 91 drawings in 1970 by the artist’s then-wife, Jacqueline. He claims she gave him the works in a closed box containing the works, saying: “Here, it’s for you. Take it home”. The art has never been displayed in public before and were kept intact in a locked garage until 2010 when the couple unaware of the value asked the Picasso Foundation for help in authentication the works.Le Guennec traveled by train with a suitcase to Paris with the treasures unveiling them to a shocked assistant at the foundation who expected that the works would be fakes. However within days of Picasso art experts ascertaining the works as real, the police arrested the couple at their home in Mouans Sartoux, near Cannes on suspicion of receiving stolen goods.
Nine cubist works and a Blue Period watercolour believed to be valued at 30m euro (£24.5m) alone. A portrait of Picasso’s first wife Olga, and several gouaches and lithographs are also in the hoard. If convicted, the couple could be jailed for up to five years with an added fine of 375,000 Euro (£278,000) fine for receiving and keeping stolen goods.