Three works by Picasso discovered in three months
A sketch worth hundreds of thousands, a children’s book and a “missing” masterpiece… In the last three months, three unique works by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso have been found, in strange circumstances and unexpected. Is it a coincidence or not?
When Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr won a landslide victory in May 2022, he went to visit the home of his mother Imelda, former first lady and wife of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
In a video showing a mother congratulating her son, one detail of Imelda’s opulent home stood out. On the wall was a distinctive painting of an abstract nude rendered in blues and greens, on a red and orange bed. It was unquestionably Pablo Picasso’s “Reclining Woman VI”.
The painting was one of more than 200 that Imelda and Marcos senior acquired while the dictator was in power, using money diverted from the Philippines to Switzerland. By the time of his impeachment in 1986, he had looted up to $10 billion.
In 2014, “Recumbent Woman VI” was targeted by anti-corruption authorities in the Philippines trying to recover some of those missing billions, but they failed to confiscate it and the artwork was declared “missing”. . Ever since it was spotted in Imelda’s living room, questions have swirled as to whether she has the genuine version of the painting or a fake, or possibly both.
“It’s an amazing story, for several reasons,” Ruth Millington, art historian and author of “Muse.” “A criminologist can take decades or hundreds of years to track down a painting, but this one was spotted online.”
As Picasso’s paintings of his muses are his most prized works, the real “Reclining Woman VI” will likely be worth tens of millions of dollars. “It’s a bold and brazen move on the part of the family if it’s the real deal to show it on the walls behind her,” adds Millington. “But, if it’s a replica, then it’s a last-ditch attempt to troll the authorities who are looking for the real painting.”
“An important discovery”
A month after Bongbong Marco’s victory in the Philippines, a second work by the Spanish artist was unexpectedly found, this time by his granddaughter Diana Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso in France.
Rummaging through the family storage in June 2022, she came across a collection of origami birds and sketchbooks filled with colorful images of the artist’s animals, clowns and acrobats.
Pablo Picasso made this origami bird for his daughter from exhibition invitation cards
📸 Adam Rzepka © Private collection pic.twitter.com/gXP1zeGgJ0
— Deepa 🕯️ (@kdeep) June 20, 2022
When she showed the books to her mother, Picasso’s eldest daughter, Maya Ruiz-Picasso, the memories resurfaced. The artist had used the sketches to teach his daughter, now 86, how to draw as a child. On some pages, his notes and sketches stand alongside those of his father. Next to a circus scene, she wrote the number “10” indicating her approval.
“It’s an incredibly important finding,” says Millington. “We all know that Picasso was intrigued by the imagination of children. This shows tangible proof of this in the form of the sketchbook. It also shows that the dialogue between him and his daughter brings that personal element to it.
A few weeks later, on July 5, 2022, another work by the master of cubism unexpectedly appeared.
After being informed by customs officers, authorities at Ibiza airport in Spain searched the luggage of a passenger arriving from Switzerland and found a drawing, believed to be Picasso’s “Three Characters”, hidden in his luggage. bags.
Upon discovery of the work, the passenger claimed it was a copy and showed authorities an invoice worth approximately $1,560. But a new search of his bags brought to light a second invoice, from an art gallery in Zurich. The sketch, believed to be authentic, is valued at over $460,000.
A prolific artist
Picasso was a prolific creator, estimated to have produced around 50,000 works of art during his lifetime, compared to around 20,000 by Andy Warhol and 900 paintings by Van Gough. And these are only the authentic versions. “There are more fake Picassos than real Picassos, and there are a lot of real Picassos,” says Dr Donna Yates, associate professor of criminal law and criminology at Maastricht University, the Netherlands.
Currently, the demand for works by the Spanish master is booming. “Since the pandemic, people have been investing their money in artwork and trying to sell it in ways that no one really expected,” Millington says. Insecurity in other markets makes art a safe bet, “and a solid investment is something from a great master, like Picasso.”
In the case of works like “Reclining Woman VI”, infamy and intrigue only increase the value. Millington says “even the fake now could be worth a lot because of the story surrounding it.”
In a market teeming with Picassos – real and fake – where these works are in high demand, what about three unexpected discoveries in such different circumstances, in such a short time?
While the stories may be unique, they aren’t entirely unexpected. “It’s almost weirdly predictable,” Yates says. “It seems strange that we have three types of things about Picasso, but he produced a lot of work, so there are a lot of Picasso works of art. At the same time, a lot of people target his work in many ways because he is well known and his works are desirable.
‘The Wild West’
The art market is worth around $65.1 billion worldwide, and the art crime market is also very valuable. There are no global figures on the cost of art crime, but in the United States alone the FBI Art Crime Team has recovered over 15,000 items worth more than $800 million since 2004.
A single case of a potential fake Picasso and another of illegal smuggling occurring within three months of each other are ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to the true scale of the crimes, says Yates arts happening around the world.
The smuggling incident in Ibiza is perhaps the least surprising of Picasso’s three recent discoveries. “People think artwork is always shipped in well-packed crates by art professionals, but it’s often carried in carry-on luggage,” says Millington.
Not only does this avoid costs such as taxes and permits needed to move certain valuable works, but the chances of getting caught are slim. “Often the least sophisticated forms of smuggling are the most effective,” Yates says. “Another of the most common ways to smuggle things is through the mail.”
The process by which valuable works of art fall into the hands of smugglers is relatively simple. The works are essentially sold to the highest bidder. “And frankly, more and more individuals have a lot more money than museums to buy these pieces,” Yates says. Once an individual owns a work of art, nothing prevents him from transporting it as he pleases or reselling it to whoever he wants.
Perhaps the most unique of the three finds is the sketchbooks and origami found in France. But while there’s no evidence of foul play, even that discovery might not be as simple as it seems.
Artifacts that can shed new light on the creative process of a great artist are extremely rare, and in this case the timing is exceptionally opportune.
In April 2022, the Picasso Museum in Paris launched a nine-month exhibition entitled “Maya Ruiz-Picasso, Daughter of Pablo” dedicated to Picasso’s relationship with his eldest daughter. Two months later, a surprise discovery of new artifacts will certainly help promotional efforts, especially as sketchbooks and birds are to be added to the exhibits.
Nevertheless, Millington is happy that they are on display in a museum, “where there is a reflection on Picasso and his interest in the imagination of children”.
“I think they would do extremely well in the art market, but the market is so unregulated,” she says. “It’s like the Wild West.”