Is an Electrician the greatest Picasso Thief?

Pierre Le Guennec and his wife

It would be hard to top 271. Police in France have charged a man and his wife with selling 271 stolen Picassos. He claims Picasso gave them as a gift:

Pierre Le Guennec, 71, was caught and sued along with his wife when he contacted the late Spanish painter’s estate seeking to authenticate the works, which he had kept in his garage for nearly 40 years, Le Monde newspaper said.
The local public prosecutors’s office declined to confirm the report to AFP and Le Guennec and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The report said Le Guennec claimed Picasso and his wife and muse Jacqueline had personally given him the works when he was working at their farmhouse in Mougins, not far from his own home in Mouans-Sartoux, southeastern France.
Investigators found however that some of the works — which include collages, sketches and prints — disappeared from another location, Le Monde said. They seized the works and charged the couple with handling stolen goods.

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The Bost Arch in 1970

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WMD and Antiquities?

Archaeology has an interesting but brief interview with Matthias Rossbach who has led a project which uses Nuclear Analytical Techniques to measure elemental composition of ceramic, stone and metal to learn more about the age and provenance of objects. Here is an excerpt:

The IAEA is best known for combating the illegal trade of nuclear materials—how did you get involved with archaeology?
When I joined the agency, there was a project in Latin America that used NATs for so-called pottery fingerprinting to determine provenance by studying the elemental composition of the clay from which the pottery was produced. This was restricted to Latin America, though, and I was looking for opportunities to enhance the application of NATs in all our member states. So, through this program, museums and excavators work with government labs to learn more about the age and provenance of their materials, and even learn whether their objects are fakes.

What makes NATs good tools for authenticating artifacts?
If you analyze the element content, you can easily determine what is authentic because the production procedures and materials differ between today and, let’s say, a thousand years ago. So the composition of the products is different and NATs are virtually nondestructive.

Interesting stuff. I wonder what the cost is for such an analysis, and whether this kind of study might be used for some high-profile antiquities where the original findspot or place of creation is unknown. I’m thinking primarily of the Sevso hoard and the Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth currently in the Getty. It will be a long time before such technology can be used to actually determine provenance I think.

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