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Huge Picasso cache not stolen, lawyer says

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: "Impossible" to think Picasso gave works away, a family representative says
  • A 71-year-old retired electrician sought to have 271 unknown works authenticated
  • The Picasso family is suing the man, alleging that the works are stolen
  • The lawsuit, filed in September, was reported by a French newspaper Monday

Paris, France (CNN) -- A retired French electrician who revealed that he has 271 previously unknown works by artist Pablo Picasso did not steal them, his lawyer told CNN Tuesday.

"He kept them with love," Evelyne Rees said.

Pierre Le Guennec, 71, worked for Picasso for three years, until the artist died in 1973, and continued to work for his widow, Jacqueline, until she died 13 years later, Rees said.

The electrician asked Jacqueline for pieces of Picasso's work, and she gave them to Le Guennec over a period of time, his lawyer said.

Le Guennec contacted the Picasso estate by mail in January to request certification of authenticity for the works: a collection of cubist collages, drawings, lithographs, notebooks and a watercolor.

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Along with the letter, Le Guennec included 26 photographs of previously unpublished Picasso pieces.

But he found himself slapped with a lawsuit filed by the artist's son, Claude Picasso, and five other heirs who say the works are stolen.

The lawsuit was first reported Monday by the French newspaper Liberation.

His approach to the Picasso family shows that he is innocent, his lawyer said.

"If you are a thief, you would not put yourself in the mouth of the wolf," she said.

Rees said that Le Guennec contacted the Picasso Administration to get an idea of what the pieces were worth. She said the pieces had "sentimental" value to Le Guennec, and he did not make their presence public because he was not looking for money.

He brought all 271 pieces from his home in the south of France to the offices of the Picasso Administration in Paris.

Christine Pinault, Claude Picasso's assistant and an employee of the Picasso Administration, said the artwork was reviewed by the family and others in the administration, who determined that the works are all authentic.

The family's lawsuit, filed September 23, charges that Le Guennec hid stolen goods.

France's Central Office for the Fight Against Traffic in Cultural Goods seized the pieces from Le Guennec's home on the French Riviera on October 5 and is holding them in a vault at its Nanterre office, northwest of Paris.

Pinault said that one of the reasons the Picasso family is taking Le Guennec to court is because he hasn't adequately explained how he came across the works.

Jean Jacques Neuer, a lawyer for the Picasso family, said he couldn't believe Le Guennec's story, not least since the collection includes nine significant works.

"It's impossible to think that [Picasso] would have given nine works to an electrician," Neuer said Tuesday. "It's impossible that these works have been given away" to Le Guennec.

The works are from a period spanning 1900 to 1932, according to Liberation.

CNN's Winnie Andrews and Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.