Retired French electrician says heir to second Picasso trove
A retired French electrician and his wife accused of handling hundreds of stolen Picasso works that they insist were gifts announced Wednesday they are heirs to another trove of his art.
The claim came less than two weeks after Pierre Le Guennac, an electrician who installed burglar alarms at some of Pablo Picasso's homes in the 1970s, said the artist and his wife gave him a total of 271 works.
A magistrate is probing how Le Guennac came by the paintings and drawings, thought to be worth over 60 million euros (80 million dollars), and Picasso's heirs have lodged a suit against him for handling stolen goods.
Now, Le Guennac and his wife Daniele say that they are heirs to even more Picassos, as they are "distant cousins" of his former chauffeur, Maurice Bresnu, who said that the artist also gave him many gifts.
Bresnu's widow, Jacqueline, inherited the pictures, dating from 1967 to 1973, when he died in 1991. Following her death in 2009, her heirs decided to put them up for auction in Paris on Thursday.
But that sale was dramatically postponed on Tuesday at the request of one of her heirs because of publicity surrounding the Le Guennec's own trove, which has been seized by the authorities pending the outcome of the investigation.
Daniele Le Guennec told AFP that the couple were among six heirs to the collection contained in Bresnu's will.
"We didn't know there was all this, because we didn't have a relationship with the Bresnus, we hadn't seen them for a long time," she said, admitting that "this business is happening at an unfortunate time, even if we're serene because we have nothing to hide."
Although the full details of the works due to be auctioned were not known, the most beautiful piece is reportedly a female nude from 1972 with an estimate of 60,000 to 80,000 euros.
Le Guennec says he worked installing alarm systems at several of Picasso's residences, including a villa in the Riviera city of Cannes, during the three years up until the artist's death in 1973.
He said he was given all of the works, either by Picasso's late wife or by the artist himself.
They all date from between 1900 and 1932 -- from the artist's years as a struggling youth freshly arrived in France from Barcelona, up until the first major retrospectives of his work.
But Picasso's heirs dispute the claim, not least because the artist was known to jealously guard his own works, often proving reluctant to sell and sometimes even buying back favoured pieces from which he had been separated.
The Le Guennecs sent photographs of some of the works to Picasso's son, Claude, in January for authentication. They then visited Claude with a suitcase packed with Picasso works -- none of which figure in official inventories.
Le Guennec said he came forward with the works after a spell of ill-health, for fear his children would have trouble accounting for them.
Once experts had authenticated all the works, Picasso's heirs filed suit on September 23 for dealing in stolen goods.
Concerning Thursday's delayed sale, auctioneers Drouot said "there is no problem with any of the works on offer."
© 2010 AFP