A French court on Friday upheld the two-year suspended sentences of Pablo Picasso’s former electrician and his wife, who kept 271 of his artworks stashed in their garage for almost 40 years.
Pierre Le Guennec and his wife Danielle were convicted last year of possessing stolen goods and for hiding the works from Picasso’s heirs.
At his original trial Le Guennec, now 77, claimed that Picasso had presented him with the artworks in 1971 or 1972, to reward him for his loyal service. The painter died in 1973.
“Picasso had total confidence in me. Maybe it was my discretion,” Le Guennec told the court at the time. “Monsieur and Madame called me ‘little cousin’.”
The former electrician later changed his account, however, telling the appeals court in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence that the works were part of a huge trove of art that Picasso’s widow asked him to conceal after the artist’s death in 1973.
He claimed that Jacqueline Picasso later retrieved most of the works but left him a box containing 180 single pieces and a notebook containing 91 drawings as a gift, saying “this is for you”.
Le Guennec said it was only when he got home that he found what he described as “drawings, sketches, crumpled paper”, which he put in his garage. He claims he then forgot about the box and its contents until he rediscovered it again in 2009, almost four decades later.
A lot of the evidence during the first trial centred around why none of the works were signed, with several witnesses saying the artist would sign everything – partly to ensure against theft.
According to Gerard Sassier, the son of Picasso’s long-time chambermaid, the artist once said after a theft attempt: “Anyway, nothing can be stolen as nothing is signed.”
One of the few plaintiffs to have known Le Guennec when he was employed by the Picasso family, the artist’s granddaughter Catherine Hutin-Blay, acknowledged during the trial that the electrician did have a special relationship with the artist.
“We really trusted him. He was someone who was very familiar in the house and had an absolutely friendly relationship,” she told the court at the first trial.
The collection, whose value has been estimated at between 60-100 million euros ($63-$105 million), includes drawings of women and horses, nine rare Cubist collages from the time Picasso was working with fellow French artist Georges Braque and a work from his “blue period”.
Other more intimate works include portraits of Picasso’s mistress Fernande, drawings of his first wife Olga and a drawing of a horse for his children.
French authorities seized them after Le Guennec presented them to Picasso’s son Claude Ruiz-Picasso in 2010 to try get them authenticated.
Ruiz-Picasso, who represents the artist’s six heirs, subsequently pressed charges.
Claude Picasso’s lawyer, Jean-Jacques Neuer, welcomed Friday’s ruling and told reporters that the artworks were in perfect condition despite having been kept almost 40 years in the Le Guennec couple’s garage.