Electrician stuns art world with trove of Picassos

Mon Nov 29, 2010 2:42pm EST
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By Pauline Mevel

PARIS (Reuters) - Pablo Picasso was both hugely prolific and famously generous with his work, but was he enough of a free spirit to give hundreds of his early works -- an invaluable collection -- to his electrician?

That question lies at the heart of a court case over the origin of 271 Picasso works -- a treasure trove of original sketches, paintings and collages that was unknown to the art world a few months ago and unveiled for the public on Monday.

Experts have yet to appraise the full collection, which has been placed under lock and key after a judicial appeal by Picasso's heirs. But there is little dispute so far over its authenticity. The works, many of which belong to the artist's Blue and Cubist periods, could fetch more than 60 million euros ($79 million) at auction.

More mysterious is how such an extensive collection could have wound up in the hands of a retired electrician in the south of France who once worked for the Picasso family, or why he chose to hold onto it for so many decades.

"We have questions, legitimate questions about where the paintings came from," Claudia Andrieu, legal counsel for the Picasso Foundation, told Reuters Television. "We are discovering new pieces, completely unknown pieces that had never been printed in any book."

The mystery began when Claude Picasso -- son of the artist and head of the foundation named after him -- received a letter from a man who said he owned original Picasso pieces and wanted to have them verified for authenticity.

Picasso convinced the man to bring the collection to Paris, saying he would be unable to verify it from photographs. The man arrived by car with the paintings in a suitcase and laid them out on a table.

"I felt a great surprise, naturally, lots of emotion at the discovery of pieces with which we were not familiar. But also a deep disturbance," he told French daily Liberation. "Many of these pieces were not dated, which means they never should have left the studio."   Continued...

<p>People walk past "Homme et femme au bouquet" by Pablo Picasso during a preview of Sotheby's Impressionist &amp; Modern Art auction in New York October 29, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>