Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Treasure Trove of Picassos Surfaces and sets off alarm bells

 Painting of a hand (undated)
"Une découverte majeure" (a major discovery) read the headlines on Liberation Magazine as the news broke of a treasure trove of Picasso's works, coming to light in a very unusual, some might say bizarre way.

 The mystery began when Claude Picasso -- son of the artist and head of the foundation named after him -- received a letter from a man who said he owned original Picasso pieces and wanted to have them verified for authenticity.

Picasso convinced the man to bring the collection to Paris, saying he would be unable to verify it from photographs. The man arrived by car with the paintings in a suitcase and laid them out on a table.

Still life glass sand

"I felt a great surprise, naturally, lots of emotion at the discovery of pieces with which we were not familiar. But also a deep disturbance," he told French daily Liberation. "Many of these pieces were not dated, which means they never should have left the studio." (methinks there's a bit of class snobbery here; heavens forbid that a lowly working-class guy be the recipient of Pablo's generosity. Also, if they were stolen during Picasso's lifetime, wouldn't he have known and reported the theft to the police?)

 Retired electrician Pierre Le Guennec (pictured outside his home in Mouans-Sartoux, France) claims Picasso gave him 271 artworks.

The man in question was Pierre Le Guennec, an electrician in his seventies who worked on Picasso's property in the south of France during the 1970s. He told Reuters Television that Picasso's wife gave him the artworks.

"It's Madame (Picasso) who gave them. But if Madame gave them, Monsieur was aware of it. She wasn't going to do it just like that, was she?" he said, speaking through a gate in front of his property. "What did you want me to do with them? ... They stayed in a box with other boxes that I have, from my job." Le Guennec has denied stealing the paintings and told RTL radio he decided to ask about their value as a possible inheritance for his children.

Experts estimate the nine Cubist collages alone to be worth €40 million ($53 million). The 71-year-old electrician managed to have the works authenticated by the artist's estate in September, but the estate subsequently sued for possession of stolen goods and the works were seized last month by the Office Central de Lutte contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels, the French art-trafficking squad. Unwilling to risk losing the works, Picasso's heirs successfully appealed to a judge to have the works placed under lock and key, where experts can study and care for them. "We have questions, legitimate questions about where the paintings came from," Claudia Andrieu, legal counsel for the Picasso Foundation, told Reuters Television. "We are discovering new pieces, completely unknown pieces that had never been printed in any book." (And isn't the Picasso family just itching to get their fingers on this and add to their fortune?)

 Papier colle pipe et bouteille (Copy paste pipe and bottle)

Among the works are nine extremely rare Cubist collages, a watercolor from Picasso's Blue period, several painted hand studies, some 30 lithographs and over 200 drawings, as well as portraits of the artist's first wife, Olga Khokhlova.

While the artist was known to dash out sketches on napkins at restaurants and make spontaneous gifts to friends, he would not have separated with such a large store of work, his son told Liberation. Claude Picasso stated that, in his opinion,  " It doesn't hold up." Pablo Picasso was both hugely prolific and sometimes generous with his work, but was he generous  to give hundreds of his early works -- an invaluable collection -- to his electrician?

Neither Le Guennec nor his wife, who also spoke to AOL News and also laughed several times during the conversation, seemed concerned that they were rapidly becoming the subject of an international story.

Ms. Le Guennec said the box of Picassos had sat in the garage of her home for 30 years. But Mr. Le Guennec recently underwent major surgery, and they began to worry about their children’s inheritance, she said. And the box came out so she could authenticate its contents.

“We don’t have anything left now,” she said, but added, “We have our lawyer.”       

"I have a little idea why Picasso gave us this gift, but I'm not sure," Le Guennec said. "For me it was just a gift. He was a marvelous man. I didn't know if it was worth one franc or a hundred francs at the time."

When asked if he was concerned that people might wonder if he stole it, Le Guennec said no.
"People can think whatever they want to think," he said. "It doesn't bother me."

Good essay indicating that this is the art news of the year. Note the comment about the spiteful behavior of the Picasso heirs, already trying to exploit the work before it's been analyzed. The comment also pointed out that not only did Picasso give away "lesser" works during his life time but the estate settled several claims after his death by gifting art work to the claimants. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8

Images from AP Wire Services


Zoomie said...

It seems disingenuous to me that anyone in the world would not know that a gift like that is truly a gift of millions of dollars. On the other hand, things I have read about Picasso and his wife do lead me to think they might well have been generous like that. Picasso was often spontaneously generous and why would his wife be any different? He was enormously prolific, too, so I can imagine him having all kinds of things sitting around that he would give away without much thought. It will be interesting to see how this is resolved - I hope the Picasso family loses; they are just being greedy.

namastenancy said...

You are absolutely right about the Picasso family. They have a justified reputation for being rapacious and nasty. The battles over Picasso's estate were a marathon war that was only resolved when the French government stepped in to adjudicate. I thought that Claude Picasso's comment about how he was "only interested in the art" (not money) was ridiculous. How could he say that with a straight face when he immediately contacted the police to arrest the electrician and confiscate the art work. He wants to get his paws on it and you can see the drool from here. As far as the electrician goes, I think he is probably just a bit naive. After all, you have to be pretty clueless to call the son and ask him to verify the art work if you'd actually stolen it. I know that my life - or a fair portion of it - revolves around art but that's not true for everybody.

Zoomie said...

Also interesting that the pieces shown on the news are so obviously Picassos that even I could recognize them. I agree about the plumber being naïve to contact the family for verification but I still find it hard to believe they didn't know they were sitting on a gold mine. My guess is you could stop any man on the street and he'd know who Picasso was and that his work sells for millions.

Anne said...

This story is deeply troubling. I can well believe the French electrician is naïf. My family has lived in France for nearly thirty years, and I know a few guys like this electrician. The way I see it is that he wouldn't have thought they were "proper" Picassos if they weren't framed and in a gallery. I know that sounds naïve, but that's how some people view cultural objects: they don't exist unless they are officially mediated. I believe France is where they invented the rubber stamp...

namastenancy said...

I think that the Picasso family is going to base their case on the claim that Picasso signed and dated "Everything." But if this was a box of discards or a careless gift, then, it's perfectly reasonable that they wouldn't be signed. I can also believe that the electrician and his wife - being very working class in a way that most Americans can't fathom - simply didn't think that the Picassos were really all that important or valuable. The media is making a big deal that he's gotten his story a bit scrambled but how many of us remember what happened 40 years ago. I am no specialist in French law but if he's considered guilty until proven innocent, this could not end well for the electrician. As for Claude Picasso, he's revoltingly greedy and unscrupulous. What a pig - to get the police to confiscate the collection even before it's evaluated.