Aix-en-Provence, France, Nov 1 – A retired electrician who kept nearly 300 Pablo Picasso artworks in his garage for almost 40 years told a French appeal court Monday that the artist’s widow may have wanted to keep the works hidden from his son Claude.
Pierre Le Guennec, convicted last year along with his wife of possessing stolen goods, said that after Picasso died in April 1973, his widow had asked him to store between 15 and 17 garbage bags containing the artworks.
“Mrs Jacqueline Picasso had problems with Claude Picasso,” the 77-year-old defendant told the court in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence.
Le Guennec said that some time later Jacqueline Picasso retrieved the bags but gave him one of them.
The collection, whose value has not been assessed, includes drawings of women and horses, nine rare Cubist collages from the time Picasso was working with fellow French artist Georges Braque and a work from his “blue period”.
Other more intimate works include portraits of Picasso’s mistress Fernande, drawings of his first wife Olga and a drawing of a horse for his children.
– ‘Crumpled paper’ –
The unsigned works, which had not been inventoried, were created between 1900 and 1932.
The authorities seized the works after Le Guennec tried to get them authenticated in 2010 and handed them over to Picasso’s son Claude Ruiz-Picasso, who represents the artist’s six heirs.
Le Guennec had previously testified that he and his wife Danielle received the works in 1971 or 1972 when the Spanish master was still alive.
Their lawyer Eric Dupont Moretti said he had learned this version of events only a few days ago.
Le Guennec said he did not reveal the truth before for “fear of being accused along with madame of having stolen these bags”.
The couple were initially given two-year suspended prison terms for possessing stolen goods by a court in March 2015.
Their appeal is set to last one day, with the defendants facing maximum jail time of five years and a fine of 375,000 euros ($410,000) — or half the value of the pieces, whichever figure is greater — if the conviction is upheld.
Pierre Le Guennec had testified previously that the art legend and his wife gave him the artworks when he was working on the last property they lived in before Picasso died.
Le Guennec, who worked for Picasso between 1970 and 1973, said Jacqueline gave him the 271 works as a gift recognising the couple’s devotion.
He described the 180 single pieces and a notebook containing 91 drawings as “drawings, sketches, (and) crumpled paper”.
Uninterested in the haul, Le Guennec said he put the collection in his garage and discovered it again in 2009.
– No works were signed –
He went to Paris the following year to get the works authenticated by Claude Ruiz-Picasso, and the artist’s heirs promptly filed a complaint against him.
Claude and his sister Paloma were the offspring of Picasso’s relationship with Francoise Gilot, his companion from 1944 to 1953.
The investigation did not formally identify the thief or thieves.
“We’re honest people,” Le Guennec said after the initial verdict.
Much of the trial centred on why none of the works was signed, with several witnesses saying the artist would sign everything — partly to ensure against theft.
According to Gerard Sassier, the son of Picasso’s long-time cleaning woman, the artist once said after an attempted theft: “Anyway, nothing can be stolen as nothing is signed.”
The defence argued it would have been extremely difficult to steal from Picasso as he had “an amazing memory” and his property was protected like a “fortress”.
One of the few plaintiffs to have known Le Guennec when he was employed by the Picasso family, the artist’s grand-daughter Catherine Hutin-Blay, acknowledged during the trial that the electrician did have a special relationship with the artist.
Prosecutor Laurent Robert said Le Guennec was a pawn who was manipulated by unscrupulous art dealers trying to obtain works initially stolen by Picasso’s former chauffeur.