Pierre Le Guennec and his wife Danielle have gone on trial in Grasse, South of France. They are accused of stealing 271 works by Pablo Picasso, worth in the region of €60-80million.
The couple claim that Picasso’s wife gifted the works to Le Guennec when he was working as a handyman on Picasso’s estate in the 1970s. “One evening, as I was leaving, Madame gave me a little parcel and said ‘this is for you’,” Le Guennec told AFP in 2010. His wife recalls her husband coming back one evening with the works stuffed in a bin bag.
“Monsieur and madame called me ‘little cousin’”, he said in court yesterday.
The art, which has never been displayed publicly, was kept by the couple in a garage for decades. In 2010, hoping to clarify the situation of the works for his children, the former handyman went to Paris to show the works to Picasso’s son, Claude.
While the artist’s son authenticated the works, he also accused Le Guennec of having stolen them, dismissing the Le Guennecs’ story as “ridiculous.” A few days later, police confiscated the cache. The Le Guennecs face up to five years in prison and a €375,000 (£278,000) fine if convicted.
None of the works are signed, which plays against the couple, as the artist tended to sign his works just before selling or giving them away. “Picasso was aware of the importance of his works, and he wouldn’t give them away carelessly,” said Claude Picasso’s lawyer, Jean-Jacques Neuer. “When you give someone a present, you pick something that will fit that person. Picasso here gave works that have nothing to do with each other, including extremely precious cubist collages, which represent 10 percent of his entire production! There are also two sketchbooks, important tools for Picasso, that he wouldn’t have given away.”