Picasso's Electrician Loses Appeal Over Hoarding 271 of the Painter's Works for 40 Years

After a decade-long legal battle filled with appeals, Pablo Picasso's electrician and his wife were convicted for theft of stolen goods after it was discovered they had 271 of Picasso's works hidden in their garage.

Pierre Le Guennec, 80, and his wife Danielle, 76, claimed the works were a gift. The electrician worked for Picasso in the 1970s, doing odd jobs at the artist's villa in Mougins.

In 2010, Le Guennec traveled to Paris to ask Claude Picasso to authenticate the artwork. The son of the artist, who manages the Picasso Administration, deemed the work legitimate but suspected they were stolen. Three days later, police confiscated the collection.

Among the 271 Picasso pieces were nine rare Cubist collages, six oils on canvas, 28 lithographs, a work from his famous Blue Period and sketchbooks dating between 1900 and 1932. The trove was estimated to be worth between $74 million and $98 million.

The Le Guennecs were first convicted of theft in 2015. That verdict was upheld by a higher court in 2016, then overturned by the Cour de Cassation—one of four courts of "last resort" in France—which ordered a retrial.

The couple was not in court on Tuesday to hear their third guilty conviction.

"It is a triumph of truth and marks the end of a cover-up," said Jean-Jacques Neuer, lawyer for Picasso's son Claude Ruiz-Picasso.

"If you have 271 works by Picasso and you want to put them on the international market you need a certificate of authenticity," said Neuer.

He described the Le Guennecs of playing the role that drug mules play in drug-trafficking.

"If you see the Picasso estate and tell them these works fell from the sky or you picked them up from the bric-a-brac market, there is little chance anyone will believe you," he said.

Picasso Christie's
"Les femmes d'Alger (Version O)" painted by Pablo Picasso, sold for a record-breaking $179,365,000 at Christie's, making it the most expensive painting ever sold. Andrew Burton/Getty

For a decade, the Le Guennecs have denied stealing the works.

Over the course of the legal battle, two stories emerged: During the first trial, it was that Picasso had left 271 pieces of work as a reward for Le Guennecs' loyal service. During the appeal, the former electrician said Picasso's widow Jacqueline asked him to conceal part of the huge collection after the artist died in 1973.

Le Guennec alleged that he stored more than a dozen garbage bags of unsigned works which were saved and then given to Jacqueline later, except for one bag she told him to keep. He also suggested that Jacqueline wanted to keep the artwork away from the man who had Le Guennec arrested in the first place: her stepson, Claude.

The Picasso family claimed the artist never gave away work without signing and dating it first, which was a red flag from the beginning.

The Le Guennecs received two-year suspended jail terms, meaning they won't see any prison time as long as they follow protocol.