Art Heist


This is by far one of the less flashier art heists I’ve covered; there was no brazen, caught-on-camera theft, no suave criminals dressed as security guards smashing display cases. But it was by far the biggest haul I’ve read about: over 400 (FOUR HUNDRED) drawings, sketches, and watercolors were stolen from the home of Picasso’s step-daughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay, over a two year period between 2005 and 2007. She is the only child of Picasso’s second wife, and inherited her mother and step-father’s house in Vauvenargues, France upon their deaths, along with an unbelievable collection of Picasso’s works. She only became aware of the theft in 2011, when a gallery in Paris contacted for authentication before a sale of one of the pieces. “I went to the filing cabinet to check that the artworks were still there and they were no longer there,” Ms Hutin-Blay told the French newspaper Le Parisien. “That is what triggered everything.”

‘Everything’ now includes a full investigation of the theft, with focus on Freddy Munchenbach, a handyman she hired during the time the pieces are thought to have gone missing. A neighbor, Sylvie Baltazart-Eon (the daughter of Picasso’s late art dealer, apparently everyone who knew Picasso lives in the same town), noticed some pieces of her own collection were missing, too. The women were able to deduce the thing they had in common: the handyman.

Now, I’m sorry, maybe I’m not as worldly or related-to-Picasso, but isn’t a stash of irreplaceable art something you’d check on more frequently than every few years? I know I’m anxious in general, but I sometimes have panic attacks at work about where I stashed a specific scarf at home. I’m not victim-blaming here, but if a gallery in a different city has to alert you to a theft that occurred in your own home more than four years previous, maybe you’re not being careful enough?

All 400 pieces are only valued at 1 to 2 million euro total, a weirdly low sum (that’s only €5,000 per piece as compared to the millions his works usually bring in at auction). To date, 22 of the 400 pieces have been recovered.

Thanks to Lauren for the tip.

16 thoughts on “Art Heist

  1. The butler did it! I’m sure we could make up some illicit story about it all – it was the handyman who did it because he was in love with the scullery maid and now they can run away to Aruba together

  2. oh my word. i’m like you and would probably notice within the week not within the decade! then again, if i had a picasso, it would be up on my wall behind bullet proof glass tinted to keep out decay-inducing uv rays so i would definitely notice if it was missing. but that’s just me…

    1. Ditto! Admittedly, she did have over 400 that were stolen, out of how many she actually inherited. That’s an awful lot of PIcasso drawings to hang up. Maybe rotate them every 6 months? Something! Anything other than keeping them in an unlocked filing cabinet. xo

  3. i’m kind of with you on this one… if you didn’t miss it, you probably don’t deserve to have it! (ish)

  4. well, i have to agree with you – the whole ‘she had to look in her file cabinet’ thing kind of threw me off – you keep picasos in your file cabinet, what?! though, i am sure many people wouldn’t look in my cupboards and say “there’s nothing to eat” like i do everyday. i guess it’s just a different echelon kind of thing. i love rooth’s comment, funny:)

    1. I guess if it’s something that you grew up around and was just a part of your life, maybe you wouldn’t treat it as reverentially as other people would? I mean clearly, because it took her 6 years to realize anything was missing. Good grief. xo

  5. FILE CABINET? She no deservy. I like to think that the handyman truly loved these pieces and felt that he was liberating them from their filing cabinet ignominy. Maybe?

    1. Hahah “She no deservy” made me giggle. I’m with you! I like that spin on it. He probably was an enthusiast and big Picasso fan. I’m going with that. xo

  6. First thing that came to my mind while reading the post is why the hell didn’t she check up on her paintings more often or display them around the house. If I’d had a Picasso laying around the house it would certainly not be rotting in a file cabinet.

    1. Seriously! I know she had a lot of them, but maybe hang a bunch and then swap the pieces in and out of frames every few months? I can’t believe they just sat there, untouched! xo

  7. I love these art heist posts you do! Not only would I check on them more than once a year but I would probably keep them locked away in something a little more solid than a filing cabinet (that could be easily lifted and loaded into a car with little or no suspicion). Hmmmm. Something doesn’t feel right here.

    1. Thanks, Meghan! It’s sad that I actually have so much material to do these posts at all, if you think about it. I’m with you though, get me a high security vault and some laser beams! xo

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