In 2010 I wrote about the 271 Picasso artworks a French couple – Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec – had stored, maybe hidden, in the garage of their villa in the town of Mouans-Sartoux in the Province-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region of France. Monsieur Le Guennec, then 71, a retired electrician, told the police, called […]
In 2010 I wrote about the 271 Picasso artworks a French couple – Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec – had stored, maybe hidden, in the garage of their villa in the town of Mouans-Sartoux in the Province-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region of France.
Monsieur Le Guennec, then 71, a retired electrician, told the police, called in by Claude Ruiz-Picasso, then 68, son and one of the heirs of the late Spanish-born artist Pablo Picasso, that the works had been gifts from the artist and his wife. As Pierre Le Guennec would say, while he was working for the Picassos as handyman, a friendship had sprung up between him and the artist, and between his wife and the artist’s wife, Jacqueline.
The couple had called in at the Picasso Foundation in Paris headed by Claude Ruiz-Picasso to have the artworks authenticated and valued.
That was on Thursday, September 9, 2010 and Claude Ruiz-Picasso was flabbergasted listening to the couple’s story and looking at some of the artworks they had brought along in a wheelie-suitcase. Some of the works he had seen before, others not, and did not even know of their existence.
As both the artist and his wife were deceased there was no way that the Picasso Administration could verify the Le Guennec’s story. (The artist had passed away on Saturday, April 8, 1972 aged 92, and Jacqueline, 59, on Wednesday, October 15, 1986, having shot herself in the head. They had been married since 1961, the artist then aged 72 and his bride, 27.)
Neither Pierre nor Danielle Le Guennec could recall when exactly the paintings had been gifted to them, but they thought it must have been from 1971 to 1973. They had not hung the paintings, not even one or two of them. They had simply taken the rubbish bags in which the Picasso artworks had been when they had received them, to their garage and there they had left them on a shelf. And then, they had forgotten about the bags and their contents. Forgotten until 2010: almost some 40 years later.
Obviously, the Le Guennec’s extraordinary tale was for the police to verify, and then either to believe it or to dismiss it as bogus.
The police concluded that the couple’s story was bogus. Having seized the 271 paintings, they took Pierre Le Guennec into custody, but released him soon afterwards without having charged him, but he remained under investigation. The police kept the artworks and those they handed over to l’Office central de lute contre le traffic des biens culturels (National Office Against Traffic in Cultural Goods) which deposited all for safe keeping in a vault in the Banque de France in Paris.
Nine months later, in June 2011, both Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec were charged with “having received and concealed stolen goods” but they remained free without having had to post bail.
On Tuesday, February 10, 2015, the two’s trial opened in the town of Grasse. In court, they insisted that the 271 artworks had been gifts from Pablo and Jacqueline Picasso.
On Friday, March 20, the two were found guilty and they were given a two-year suspended sentence. The 271 artworks were to be handed over to the Picasso Administration, in other words to the Picasso heirs.
Immediately, the Le Guennecs appealed the sentence.
French justice being slow, the appeal was heard only on Monday, October 31 this year (2016) in the town of Aix-en-Provence.
The couple changed their story.
The artworks, they said, had been given to them by Jacqueline Roque Picasso only and this after the 1972 death of the painter. The widow wanted them to keep the artworks which were in rubbish bags – maybe 15 or 17, they could not say exactly how many bags there had been – in safety for her. She had later asked them to return the bags to her, but to keep one as a gift. That is, the bag and its contents!
“Mrs Jacqueline Picasso had problems with her stepson, Claude Ruiz-Picasso,” said Pierre Le Guennec to the judge.
In other words, Jacqueline Picasso was hiding the paintings from the Picasso heirs.
He explained that he had not been faithful with the truth earlier because he did not want to be accused, along with Jacqueline Picasso, of having stolen the artwork. But – she had passed away in 1986 which meant that the Le Guennecs had remained silent about the 271 artworks for almost a quarter of a century before they had turned up at the Picasso Foundation’s office.
The couple’s lawyer, Maître Eric Dupond-Moretti, who has the reputation as being France’s most successful criminal lawyer, said that he had only learned the new version of the Le Guennec story few days before the opening of the trial.
As for the Picassos’ lawyer, Maître Jean-Jacques Neuer of Paris, himself an art expert, said that the Le Guennecs’ second story, as their first, was a “staggering lie” and that Pierre Le Guennec had been involved with an “international stolen art laundering” scam.
In France, it is dangerous to appeal a sentence because hardly ever is a condemnation squashed, and again on Monday the Le Guennecs’ did not walk free.
They were told that judgment would be announced on Friday, December 16 this year (2016). Having returned home, they would have to live with the thought that if their two-year suspended sentence is to be adjusted to fit the crime, they could go to jail for five years. Also, they might have to pay a fine equalling half the value of the 271 artworks or the sum of €375,000 whichever would be highest. As for the value of the 271 artworks, art experts are estimating their value as over €60 million.
The 271 artworks are now back with the Picasso heirs.
I wrote about this extraordinary art theft on the following links.
On the true-crime website Crime Magazine :
On my website :