French Retiree Unveils Picasso ‘Treasure Trove’ — But Is It Legal?

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Pablo Picasso's painting "Jeune Fille aux cheveux noirs

Kin Cheung/AP

Talk about a shock. A retired electrician from southern France has broken 40 years of silence to reveal he owns 271 previously unknown art works by Pablo Picasso–and as a result now finds himself charged by the painter’s estate for illegal possession of an artistic treasure trove valued at around $79 million.

French daily Libération revealed Monday that 71 year-old Pierre Le Guennec contacted Picasso’s son, Claude, earlier this year to have his collection of notebooks, lithographs, water colors, and cubist paintings authenticated as genuine Picassos. The works, Le Guennec said, were gifts the great artist had given him in exchange for electrical work he’d done during the 1960s in Picasso’s various Côte d’Azur residences. At first dubious of Le Guennec’s claims, Claude Picasso became convinced upon seeing the works that they were indeed done by his father, and eventually filed charges of illicit receipt of property. Based on that, French police raided Le Guennec’s home in October, and impounded art work found there—most of it dating back to 1900-1932.

(See pictures of Picasso paintings.)

Le Guennec remains astonished by the reaction to his efforts to have the unknown works certified, and is outraged at being accused of pinching objects he says he came into as gifts. Claude Picasso retorts by citing his father’s possessiveness of his creations–which he seldom gave away, and even then frequently bought back. The younger Picasso also notes Le Guennec’s collection are all unsigned (thus the need for certification), a detail his father never neglected when he did give his creations as gifts in order to authenticate them and enhance their value.

(See pictures of Paris.)

The courts will now decide if the former electrician pilfered the objects from Picasso’s homes at alleged, or is instead victim of false accusation by the painter’s son, and thereby their legitimate owner. Either way, Picasso lovers will doubtless get a big charge in learning they may soon get to see over 270 works by their hero that no one even suspected existed before now.

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