A retired electrician who kept nearly 300 Pablo Picasso artworks in his garage for almost 40 years told an appeal court Monday that the artist’s widow wanted to keep the works hidden from his son Claude.
“Mrs Jacqueline Picasso had problems with Claude Picasso,” Pierre Le Guennec, convicted last year of possessing stolen goods, told the court in a trembling voice.
A few months after Picasso died in April 1973, “she asked me to store garbage bags at my home”, the 77-year-old defendant told the court in Aix-en-Provence, saying there were between 15 and 17 bags.
Some time afterwards, Le Guennec said that Jacqueline Picasso retrieved the bags but gave him one of them.
The collection, whose value has not been assessed, includes drawings of women and horses, nine very rare Cubist collages from the time Picasso was working with fellow French artist Georges Braque and a work from his “blue period”.
– ‘Crumpled paper’ –
The unsigned works, which had not been inventoried, were created between 1900 and 1932.
The authorities seized the works and handed them over to Picasso’s son Claude Ruiz-Picasso, who represents the six heirs.
Le Guennec, who is appealing his conviction along with his wife Danielle, had previously testified that the couple received the works in 1971 or 1972 when Picasso was still alive.
Their lawyer Eric Dupont Moretti said he had learned this version of events only a few days ago.
Le Guennec said he did not reveal the truth before for “fear of being accused along with madame of having stolen these bags”.
The couple were given two-year suspended prison terms for possessing stolen goods by a court in nearby Grasse in March 2015.
Pierre Le Guennec testified earlier that the art legend and his wife gave him the artworks when he was working on the last property they lived in before Picasso died.
The appeal in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence was set to last one day, with the defendants facing maximum jail time of five years and a fine of 375,000 euros ($410,000) — or half the value of the pieces, whichever figure is greater — if the earlier conviction is upheld.
Le Guennec, who worked for Picasso between 1970 and 1973, said that Jacqueline gave him the 271 works as a gift recognising the couple’s devotion to him.
When he got home, he found what he described as “drawings, sketches, crumpled paper” — 180 single pieces and a notebook containing 91 drawings.
Uninterested in the haul, he said he put the collection in his garage and discovered it again decades later in 2009.
He went to Paris the following year to get the works authenticated by Claude Picasso, and the artist’s heirs promptly filed a complaint against him.