Picasso's handyman accused of stealing £50m art hoarde
Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec say they were given the art, worth 80m euro (£50m) by Picasso's second wife.
The Picasso estate says their account is "ridiculous" and is suing them for illegal possession of the works
Picasso's son Claude has insisted his father would "never" have given such a large quantity of works to anyone.
He told the French daily newspaper Liberation: "That doesn't stand up. These works were part of his life."
Le Guennec began working as a general handyman at Picasso's estate in the South of France in 1970.
He says that he and his wife Danielle were given 180 lithographs, collages and paintings and 91 drawings in 1970 by the artist's then-wife, Jacqueline. He claims she gave him the works in a closed box containing the works, saying: "Here, it's for you. Take it home".
Danielle recalled that her husband came home with a stuffed bag, and told her that Picasso had given the works to him.
The works, which have never been displayed publicly, were kept virtually untouched in Le Guennecs' garage until the couple decided to put their affairs in order for their children in 2010.
According to Le Guennec's lawyer, he started worrying around five years ago about what might happen to the works after his death.
He contacted the Picasso administration, which looks after works held by his heirs.
In September 2010, Le Guennec travelled to Paris to have the works assessed by the administration.
But within days of art experts proving the works were genuine, police swooped on the elderly pair at their home in Mouans Sartoux, near Cannes, and arrested them on suspicion of receiving stolen goods.
The seized Picassos include a watercolour from his Blue Period, and nine cubist works which experts believe are worth 30m euro (£24.5m) alone.
Also in the collection are portraits of his first wife Olga, as well as a number of gouaches and lithographs.
Mr and Mrs Le Guennec were initially released without charge while an investigation was launched to establish how they had come by the paintings, but eight months later they were formally charged.
If convicted, the couple face up to five years in prison and a 375,000 Euro (£278,000) fine for concealing stolen goods.
Picasso trial: So how did French couple come by £50m art hoard?
Electrician and wife say they were given 271 paintings, collages and sketches as thank-you gifts but descendants of Pablo Picasso accuse them of fraudulently obtaining the haul
Picasso's hand on canvas
“When I returned home, I saw sketches, drawings – I knew nothing about it. If madame had given me a painting on the other hand, that would have been odd,” he said.
In 2010, Mr Le Guennec and his wife took 175 totally unknown pieces in a suitcase to the Picasso Administration headquarters in Paris, showing them to Claude Picasso – the artist’s son who administers his estate – and asking to have the works authenticated.
Art experts swiftly concluded that not even the greatest counterfeiter could have copied such a wealth of different styles, and there was no way they could have faked the classification numbers on some of them. Soon afterwards, police confiscated the works and launched an investigation.
Picasso's horse drawing
Jean-Jacques Neuer, lawyer for Claude Picasso, said the couple were deliberately vague. “They don’t remember whether they received the ‘gift’ in 1970, 71 or 72. If you are given 271 Picassos, you remember it,” he said.
“You have to imagine that Picasso kept hold of them for 70 years and suddenly decided to give the lot away.”
That did not make sense, he added.
“Picasso signed his works at the last moment, to give them away or sell them.”
All the electrician has to suggest he was close to the Picassos is a signed brochure of an exhibition.
Picasso's dice drawing
"When you give a present, you choose something precise that fits the person. Picasso here is giving away works that have nothing to do with each other- notably extremely precious cubist collages that represent 10 per cent of his production,” he said.
“But also two notebooks of drawings, work tools that he would never have given away.”
Picasso has become the most stolen artist in histoy
“The issue is not whether Picasso was generous or not. Picasso wasn’t someone who was careless about his works; he didn’t give away any old how.”
Charles-Etienne Gudin, lawyer for the couple, said the works came from the artist’s “Grands-Augustins” studio in Paris, and that there was no way the electrician could have stolen them from his final home, which was a “fortress” watched over by two security guards.
The trial is due to last three weeks.
It starts a week after Marina Picasso announced she was selling off a selection of his art work, as well as his famous French villa, for an expected $290m (£190m).
Miss Picasso, famous for her 2001 memoir Picasso: My Grandfather, in which she accused the artist of destroying her childhood, said she is putting at least seven pieces of art up for sale.
The offering includes a 1921 painting called 'Maternite' for $50m, his 1911 'Femme a la Mandoline' for $60m, and a 1923 portrait of his first wife Olga Khokhlova for $60m.
The announcement sent shock waves through the art market amid worries the glut could seriously dent the value of his work.
In modern times, Picasso has become the most stolen artist in history due to his prolific output, recognisable signature and valuable works.
He has more than 1,000 paintings registered as stolen, missing or disputed - more than twice as many as the next on the list.
Charlie Chaplin's honorary Oscar award stolen in Paris
Million-euro honorary Oscar awarded to Charlie Chaplin in 1929 at the first ever Academy Awards stolen from company in Paris
Charlie Chaplin in 1940 film The Great Dictator (Rex)
Police are pursuing all avenues, including the possibility that the theft was carried out by or for a specific collector.
Ringmaster of the wardrobe: Charlie Chaplin in 1928 in The Circus (Rex Features)
Charlie Chaplin only received three Oscars in a career that spanned more than six decades.
The first, now stolen, was for his "versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus" in 1929.
At the reception of his second honorary Oscar in 1972 for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century", he received a 12-minute standing ovation – the longest in the history of the Academy Awards. His third Oscar was for Best Score in 1973 for Limelight (shared with Ray Rasch and Larry Russell).
The British actor died on Christmas Day in 1977 at the age of 88.