Entertainment & Arts

Picasso electrician art trial hears from witnesses

Danielle and Pierre Le Guennec Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pierre Le Guennec said the works were given to him when he was doing work on the last property Picasso and his second wife Jacqueline lived in before Picasso died in 1973.

Witnesses at the trial of Pablo Picasso's former electrician have cast doubt on his account of how he came to own 271 pieces of the artist's work.

Pierre Le Guennec and his wife Danielle say they were given the art by Picasso and his second wife Jacqueline in the 1970s.

The cache includes hundreds of unsigned lithographs, portraits and sketches.

But prosecution witnesses said Picasso would always insist on signing work before giving it away.

Gerard Sassier, the son of Picasso's long-time chambermaid told the court in Grasse, France, that Picasso would often draw pictures for people he liked but would always sign them.

He said the artist had drawn a portrait of his mother every year, and gave her lithographs and ceramics.

Sassier told the court that after a theft attempt, Picasso told his mother, who kept the keys to his studio: "Nothing can be stolen as nothing is signed."

He said it was "unimaginable" that Picasso would have given the works away unsigned.

Dominique Sassi, who worked alongside Picasso in a ceramics studio, told the court that the artist would keep everything, "even his failed ceramics."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Picasso's son Claude is one of the plaintiffs in the case, alongside his sister Paloma, another child Maya, two grandchildren and Catherine Hutin-Blay, the daughter of Picasso's last wife Jacqueline.

Le Guennec began working as a general handyman at Picasso's estate in the South of France in 1970 and told the court he had a good relationship with the artist.

"Picasso had total confidence in me. Maybe it was my discretion," he said.

"Monsieur and Madame called me 'little cousin.'"

He told the court that Picasso's wife Jacqueline one day unexpectedly gave him a box with the 271 works of art inside.

He said he found "drawings, sketches, crumpled paper," but did not look through everything.

Asked by the judge whether he was curious, he said: "No, I didn't have in mind that they were works of art, they were essays, torn bits, it didn't grab me.

"It's not as if I saw a painting, it's not the same," he said.

The works had remained in his garage until 2010 when he took them to Paris to have them authenticated by the Picasso Administration.

He and his wife are being sued for illegal possession of the works by a number of Picasso's heirs, including his son Claude Picasso, who runs the administration.

Christine Pinault, an authentication expert at the Picasso Administration, told the court that among the 271 works were eight very rare Cubist collages, as well as "intimate souvenirs" such as a portrait of his first wife Olga and of a girlfriend called Fernande.

"One can't imagine he could have given them to another person," she said.

Picasso's granddaughter Catherine Hutin-Blay, the only one of the plaintiffs to have known Le Guennec, admitted to the court that the electrician had a privileged relationship with the artist.

"We really trusted him. He was someone who was very familiar in the house and had an absolutely friendly relationship."

"However, all this absolutely extraordinary collection, Picasso would never have given that," she said.

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