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February 28, 2011

Art Theft Anniversary: Three Picassos Stolen from Grandaughter in Paris

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor

Four years ago on February 27, 2007, Pablo Picasso's granddaughter reported the early morning theft of two Picasso paintings worth 50 million euros from her Paris apartment. At about 4 a.m., two paintings had been removed from the Left Bank apartment of art historian Diana Widmaier-Picasso on rue du Grenelle in the 7th Arrondisement. "Maya and the Doll" (Maya a la poupee), is a 1938 portrait of her mother, Maya Widmaier, the daughter of Picasso and Marie-Therese Walter, the artist's companion from 1924-1944. "Portrait of Jacqueline" was painted by PIcasso in 1961 the year he married his second wife, Jacqueline Roque. The theft also included a lead pencil drawing and collage on paper, "Marie Therese at 21 years".

Widmaier and her mother were awoken by a noise, went downstairs, and having noticed nothing, returned to bed. They noticed the missing paintings later that morning. Thieves had neutralized the alarm and had either used the code or the keys to enter the second floor apartment. One painting had been sliced from its frame and another had been removed from the wall although newspaper reports differ as to what happened to each painting.

Pablo Picasso, who died at 91 years of age of a heart attack in 1973, is one of the world's most popular artists. His 1905 "Garcon a la pipe" sold for $104.2 million at Sotheby's in 2004. After Picasso's death, his heirs divided up his paintings.

The Organized Crime Unit of Paris police investigated the theft. In 1976, one of France's largest art thefts, involved the robbery of 118 paintings, drawings, and other Picasso works from a museum in Avignon. Picasso works were stolen from Zurich in 1994; from London in 1997; Rio de Janeiro; and the Pompidou Centre museum in Paris. In 1989, 12 Picasso paintings were taken from the Cannes home of Marino Picasso, another of the artist's granddaughters, and later recovered.

In August, within six months of the theft, Paris police had recovered the two paintings and arrested three people for the robbery which they had had under surveillance for more than a month when a suspect took the rolled-up paintings to a potential buyer.

Photos: "Portrait of Jacqueline" and "Maya and the Doll"