Pierre Le Guennec, the electrician employed by Pablo and Jacqueline Picasso in the 1970s, told the appeal court of Aix-en-Provence on Monday 31 October that he had "lied" when he said that the artist and his wife gave him 271 works in a cardboard box.
Le Guennec, now 78, and his wife, Danielle, 73, made headlines in 2010 when they took the hundreds of works to the Picasso Administration, asking for authentication certificates, which are required for a sale. The group of unsigned and unrecorded works on paper, dating from 1900 to 1932, includes rare Cubist-collages, two sketchbooks and portraits of his first wife Olga and friends such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob. It is valued at an estimated €80m. The Picasso family filed a complaint for theft and the treasure was seized at the Le Guennecs' house on the French Riviera. Last year, they both received a suspended two-year prison sentence for concealment of stolen goods.
However, on Monday the retired electrician changed his story. He now claims that the works were given to him in a rubbish bag by Jacqueline, after the artist’s death. According to this new version, Jacqueline had entrusted him with 15 or 16 such rubbish bags that she had filled at a time when she was “having trouble with Claude Picasso”, Pablo’s son born from his previous union with Françoise Gilot, who was present at the trial. Le Guennec said that he returned the bags “a few months later” and Jacqueline then gave him “the last one”, picked “at random”. The defense attorney, Eric Dupond-Moretti, immediately requested an investigation into how many of Picasso's works might have “escaped the inventories”.
“All this is absurd,” said Anne-Sophie Nardon, the lawyer for Catherine Hutin-Blay, Jacqueline’s daughter. “How can someone think that she, who so admired her husband and his oeuvre, would have filled garbage bags with his drawings and other works?”. She accused the Le Guennecs of “doing everything to smear the reputation of the Picasso family”. Claude Picasso’s lawyer, Jean-Jacques Neuer, called it “an extravagant tale”, saying that the inventory was only completed in 1978, years after Le Guennec said he had returned the bags. Both lawyers asked for the works to be returned to Picasso’s heirs; the prosecutor requested at least a suspended sentence of two years. The judge is expected to give his verdict on 16 December.