Monday 23 February 2015

Picasso's electrician on trial over art treasure

It all started with a box. A box with a huge treasure: 271 Picasso works, including six oils on canvas, 28 lithographs, and some rare cubist collages and sketchbooks, dating from 1900 to 1932. The total value of the treasure trove is estimated at between 60 and 80 million euro.

When the artist died in 1973 the box disappeared. It reappeared almost half a century later in 2010, when Pierre Le Guennec and his wife Danielle asked the Picasso Estate for certificates of authenticity for some of these unpublished works.

Le Guennec had worked as a handyman for Picasso in his villa in Mougins, in the south east of France, where he even installed an alarm system. The couple has always stated that Picasso's wife, Jacqueline, gave Le Guennec the box with the 271 works inside as a present shortly before Picasso's death in 1973. The Le Guennecs claimed to have forgotten it for decades in their garage, at the back of their small house in Mouans-Sartoux, near Cannes.

But the Picasso Administration, led by Claude, one of the artist's sons, dismissed Le Guennecs' story as “ridiculous" and the painter's heirs filed a complaint in 2010 before the Court of Grasse. The box was seized.

The couple recently went on trial accused of possessing stolen goods. The trial, based on witness accounts, suggested that Maurice Bresnu, a longtime driver for Picasso and husband of a distant cousin of Pierre Le Guennec, had helped Pierre Le Guennec to get the job with Picasso. Bresnu allegedly swiped some works, but according to the public prosecutor, all legal actions vanished with Bresnu's death in 1991.

On the other side, Le Guennec's lawyer, Charles-Etienne Gudin, said that Picasso gave the works to his client to thank him for his kindness and he never tried or wanted to sell the works saying "You don't sell gifts".

The verdict against the Le Guennecs will be announced by the Judge on 20 March and if found guilty for concealing stolen goods, they could be sentenced to five years in prison and fine of 375,000 euro or more.

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