In what could prove one of the interesting lawsuits over art ownership in decades, the estate of Pablo Picasso has filed suit against a retired French electrician and his wife after they came forward with 271 previously unknown works by the artist. The estate is claiming illegal receipt of the works — a nice way of saying they were stolen. Pierre Le Guennec, 71, says that they were all gifts.
Ironically, Le Guennec was employed to install a security system at the house to prevent theft.
The trove of paintings include nine cubist pieces and one watercolor from Picasso’s blue period. These paintings alone would have made the home of this retired electrician one of the greatest repositories of Picasso in the world — rivaling the Met with its recent show of 300 such works.
The very notion of 271 new Picasso paintings is amazing. The man worked for Picasso in the 1970s and this could create a fascinating contest over credibility if has no written record. The absence of any prior disclosure certainly makes the claim somewhat suspicious. Such cases can become the ultimate jury question — with members looking at the practices of the artist. It is quite common for many artists to give away their works, even as payment for services. This number of paintings, however, would represent a lot of work or a lot of friendship. It is also striking that the paintings were not previously known to be missing.
Picasso died a few years later and was already an international superstar in the art field. This was not some starving painter trading paintings for baguettes. Moreover, it is hard to see how much of a friendship could have developed over the course of the installation of a security system. Of course, there is always the possibility that Picasso was simply eccentric and a bit daffy in his final years. Anyway it goes, it should make for an interesting tort or criminal case or both.
Police raided the house and confiscated the paintings. He was arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen goods.