Sometime between Sunday evening, August 20, 1911 and Tuesday, August 22, 1911; Mona Lisa – the most well known painting in the world painted by Leonarda da Vinci was stolen from France’s Louvre museum. The prime suspects in that theft were two of the greatest “artists” of France. Pablo Picasso, whose fame would rival Vinci’s in modern world, and poet Appollinaire.
Picasso was known for dealing with contraband art items and was at the forefront of a movement to “break loose” of the old art.
Buried in the back of a cupboard at Picasso’s Boulevard de Clichy apartment were two figures — a small, powerfully built stone man and woman carved by the ancient Spaniards during the Bronze Age. The bottom of each bore the stamp “Property of the Louvre Museum”. Picasso was the baron’s painter friend.
In fact, interestingly, Picasso and Appollinaire were the only two who were arrested for the theft of Mona Lisa. An account of the arrest and the happenings in court etc, show Picasso in a rather bad light.
Apollinaire and Picasso faced each other across the courtroom like two strangers. Picasso appeared even smaller in that imposing hall of justice. His polka-dot shirt and clashing tie were a gesture of bravado that appeared more pathetic than defiant. After two days in jail, Apollinaire had a hollow, haunted aspect. He was grey and unshaven, his shirt unbuttoned, the collar torn. His suit was rumpled and ripped.
Painter and poet were so nervous that in their confusion and desperation to assert their own innocence, truth and friendship were forgotten. They contradicted themselves and each other, each accusing the other of bringing the stolen statues to the newspaper. Both men wept and begged for forgiveness and freedom.
Apollinaire, after being grilled for hours like a criminal, had confessed to everything: harbouring Géry, possessing stolen goods, signing a manifesto that called for burning down the Louvre. He had implicated and identified Géry and Picasso in the theft of the Iberian figures. Now Judge Drioux fixed on the painter. Glaring at Picasso through his pince-nez, he rasped out questions in his gravel voice. Picasso’s tough-guy pose evaporated like colour under turpentine. In his fear, he pleaded absolute ignorance. He swore he knew nothing whatever about L’Affaire des Statuettes. He did not know the primitive Iberian heads were stolen goods, and he did not know Apollinaire. Like Simon Peter when asked “Do you know this man?”, Picasso replied: “I have never seen him before.”
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