The 29th of November 2010 and the French newspaper Liberation broke an extraordinary story that has astonished the artworld in France and internationally.
A retired French electrician has produced 271 original artworks by Pablo Picasso, claiming that they were all gifted to him decades ago by the giant of European art.
Pierre Le Guennec says that he installed burglar alarms at Picasso’s properties in France during the ‘seventies and that the artist gave him the works – now worth tens of millions – during the period before his death in 1973.
Whatever the truth of the matter, there is likely to be at least one massive lawsuit issuing from Le Guennec’s claims.
For nearly 40 years, the Frenchman has stashed the huge and secret haul of lithographs, cubist paintings, notebooks – and a single watercolour from Picasso’s Blue Period – in the garage at his home on the French Riviera. It is reported here in France that the police have already visited Mr Le Guennec’s home and taken all the works away while his story is investigated.
The works have already been seen by Picasso’s son Claude, who verifies that they do indeed seem to be original and previously unknown works by his father.
Jean-Jacques Neuer is the administrator of Picasso’s estate. He told Liberation:
“Claude Picasso was astounded. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Just about everybody has felt that way. When you have 271 Picasso works that were never seen and never inventoried – that’s just unprecedented.”
He and other estate administrators quickly filed a case against Le Guennec for alleged illegal acquisition of all the works of art.
Claude Picasso immediately threw doubt on Mr Le Guennec’s account of how he came to have the artworks in his possession. He contacted the French Central Office for the Fight Against Traffic in Cultural Goods.
Quoted in Liberation, he made the point that although his father was known for his generosity and did indeed gift works to friends and others, he was always careful to dedicate, date and sign gifts precisely because he understood that some gifts might one day be put on the market. It would also have been out of character for him to give so many works to one person, especially someone who had simply, as Le Guennec claims, undertaken some menial work at Picasso’s properties.
“To give away such a large quantity [of artworks] – that’s unheard-of” said Claude Picasso. “It doesn’t hold water. This was part of [my father’s] life.”
Art experts have already estimated that the single watercolour from the Blue Period and the nine cubist works kept by Mr Le Guennec are together worth around 50 million dollars. The total value of the 271-work collection is not yet established.
Mr Le Guennec now faces some very detailed questioning about his possession of so many of Picasso’s works. There will be few in the art world who are not highly skeptical about his claims. There appear to be only two possible outcomes for the retired electrician in this story. He will either convince the French police that he is the legal owner of the works and become a very rich man – or he’ll fail to convince them and end up in jail.
However this story turns out, one wonderful outcome is that art lovers worldwide will have hundreds of new works by Pablo Picasso to appreciate. What a shame that they were hidden away for so long.
To see the works click here.