How did electrician come to have 271 Picassos?
‘I am not a thief’ says the 71-year-old - but Picasso’s son can’t believe his story
Claude Picasso admits his father was a generous man but he can't believe he bequeathed 271 of his works to his former electrician. Yet according to 71-year-old French sparky Pierre Le Guennec, Pablo Picasso gave him the collection in the three years preceding his death in 1973 – a reward for Le Guennec installing an alarm system in the artist's villa on the Cote d'Azur.
For reasons that are now being investigated by French police, Le Guennec stashed the 271 works in his garage for nearly 40 years, uninterested in the haul that includes sketches, lithographs, a portrait of Picasso's first wife, Olga, and nine cubist collages.
Then, on January 14 this year, Le Guennec wrote to Claude Picasso, administrator of his father's estate, informing him of the collection and asking to have the works authenticated.
A sceptical Picasso assumed at first that the letters were the work of a crank but when he was sent photographs of some of the collection as proof, he agreed to meet Le Guennec in Paris in September. The retired electrician arrived with the works in a suitcase and proceeded to show Picasso items that hadn't been included in his father's inventory at the time of his death.
Having been shown the collection, and having had them authenticated by experts (who valued them in the region of €60m), Picasso instructed his lawyer, Jean-Jacques Neuer, to file charges against Le Guennec and his wife for receiving stolen goods. At the beginning of October officers from the Central Office for the Fight against Traffic in Cultural Goods (OCBC) visited the couple's home outside Cannes and removed the collection.
In an interview with French newspaper Liberation, Picasso dismissed Le Guennec's claims that they were a gift in return for electrical skill: "To give away such a large quantity, that's unheard-of. It doesn't stand up," he said, adding: "This was part of his life."
Claude Picasso says that the cache includes work from his father's Blue Period (1901-1904), his Rose Period (1904-06) and many other pieces from the early years of the 20th century when he was at his most creative.
"Claude Picasso was astounded. He couldn't believe his eyes," Jean-Jacques Neuer said yesterday. "Just about everybody has felt that way... when you have 271 Picasso works that were never seen, never inventoried, that's just unprecedented."
For the moment Le Guennec remains a free man having been released from custody pending further enquiries, and yesterday he gave his first comment on the matter to French radio staton RTL.
"The master [Picasso] and his wife gave them to me," he insisted. "I couldn't say when exactly, only that it was during the time I worked for them between 1970 and 1973. They aren't paintings – I would have needed a lorry for that – merely several drawings and some small sketches, that is all."
Le Guennec denied that he was guilty of theft, though he admitted he thought the contents of the suitcase in his garage might be worth something. "But that didn't interest me," he said. "If it had done, I would have tried to sell them a long time ago."
Asked why he'd decided to make public the gift all these years later, the electrician said he was in poor health and, in the event of his death, he didn't want his family to be accused of what he is now being accused of – theft. ·
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