£50m Down the Drain



Some people think it would be an unbeatable experience to be in the employ of a celebrity while others wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.  Regardless of your stance we can all agree that the job might have its perks.  Then again, you might have those perks clawed away from you by a court of competent jurisdiction.


This event is now all too familiar to Picasso’s former handyman at his Cote d’Azur residence, Pierre Le Guennec.  He was in the artist’s employ at the end of his (Picasso’s) life and claims that then-wife Jacqueline made an unsolicited gift of 180 small works and a book of 91 sketches.  The handyman told the courts that he never truly looked at the drawings, and never hung any of the gifted paintings in his home because he “wanted to be discrete.”


A judge rejected this yesterday (March 20) in favour of the allegations of the Picasso Administration (which represents all the descendants … or his “issue,” if you’re feeling particularly legal-ey today) who theorized that Mr. Le Guennec was a stand-in to have the work authenticated.  They opined that the work had been stolen (which may make sense – why would the artist hold onto this work for 70 years only to suddenly give it away?  Further, if they were given the work in the 1970’s, why has there been no mention of it and no authentication attempt until now?) and the former handyman was approached to have it authenticated, because he had a personal relationship with Picasso.


From a common law perspective (Canadian, since that’s truly the only one I know … and “know” is a strong word), if the box of works HAD been a gift (not in contemplation of death, but let’s leave DMC rules to another day … like when Hades freezes over), and it was delivered as said to Mr. Le Guennec, then the family can have no claim over the estate.  Here the judge didn’t find a gift at all and instead bought the theory of stolen works which obviously has to be returned to the family.  Food for thought – the gift was given by Jacqueline not Picasso (who had title/ownership) … if she had made a gift out of something not hers, is it still considered stolen property despite the fact that she didn’t actually hold legal title?  The use of equity’s darling depends on whether the handyman knew in good faith it wasn’t being offered by someone with good title.


We probably can’t count on Mr. Le Guennec to welch on any international art smuggling ring he may be involved in (I’ve never met one but I imagine those guys are scary), and if you can’t find someone you can’t subpoena them, so the whole story will probably never be revealed.  Regardless the appeal has already been announced so I’m keenly awaiting that with the rest of the art world.