Picasso and the theft of the Mona Lisa

On August 23, 1911, Paris dawns in shock: Leonardo da Vinci ‘s most famous work has been stolen from the Louvre museum.

Nobody has the slightest idea where the Mona Lisa is, but after some investigation two people will be retained as suspects in the theft: Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire.

The painter and the poet, fathers of cubism, were arrested and interrogated by the Police since it was known from their speeches that they defended the radical proposals of the futurist Marinetti regarding the burning of museums and the destruction of their works to make way for a new art. But above all the Picasso Gang were suspected because of their records in similar thefts at the museum.

Le Petit Parisien, like everyone else, spoke of the robbery.

The most famous robbery in the world

The news of the theft made the front pages of newspapers around the world and suddenly, La Gioconda (which was not as popular as it is today) became the most famous painting in the world.

The Louvre remained closed for a week to investigate the disappearance of its star painting and when it reopened, it broke the record for visits. But people weren’t going to see a specific piece of art, but rather the hole left in the wall by The Mona Lisa.

The visited hole in the wall… First work of conceptual art?

On the one hand, those in charge of the museum were delighted with this flood of visits, however they felt deeply humiliated by such a failure in security. La Gioconda had to appear, and they were going to collaborate as much as possible to make that happen.

Picasso and Apollinaire, main suspects.

After thinking about it several times, the police came up with an interesting clue: Two bohemians, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the painter Pablo Picasso , had a history of this type of crime.

It turns out that four years earlier, a mutual friend, the Belgian Joseph Gery Pieret, had stolen a couple of Iberian statuettes from the museum, taking advantage of its security cracks. The small sculptures ended up in the workshop of Picasso, who in those days was painting his “Ladies of Avignon” and was fascinated by ancient and primitive art. With the complicity of Apollinaire, the painter bought them for 50 francs even knowing their origin and used them as inspiration for his avant-garde experiment.

After the Mona Lisa was stolen (according to Fernande Olivier, Picasso ‘s lover in those days), the young people wanted to get rid of the works and even considered throwing them into the Seine, but in the end Apollinaire tried to sell them and that’s where the police found out about everything.

Apollinaire: «My glass has broken like a laugh».

The interrogation

We are therefore dealing with an international gang of art traffickers, for which reason a month after the theft of La Gioconda, Apollinaire was interrogated and finally imprisoned for two days.

The poet must have said something, because shortly after the police went to look for Picasso at his house, and scared to death, the young painter did not stop shaking all the way to the police station.

After an interrogation in which the artist was as cooperative as possible, a moment of maximum tension came when the police brought his friend Apollinaire.

According to what they say, the macho Picasso began to cry like a child. The judge asked the painter if he knew Apollinaire, and in an act of cowardice unbecoming of an alpha male like him, Picasso replied: “I have never seen this man.”

Almost half a century later, in an interview with the art filmmaker Gilbert Prouteau, Picasso spoke about the events of 1911. “As he said that I saw Guillaume’s expression change. Blood ran from his face. I’m still embarrassed…”

The two cubists went free, but of course their friendship was not the same after the interrogation. Paranoid, they thought they were being followed at all hours and they stayed that way for a while.

Cubism finally triumphed and Picasso gradually became the greatest artist of those years.

The Mona Lisa appears

Shortly thereafter, the names of Picasso and Apollinaire were finally cleared when in November 1913 the painting turned up in the hands of a certain Vincenzo Peruggia, a former Louvre worker who had safely removed the painting under his white raincoat (the workers’ uniform). from the museum).

Peruggia mugshot.

According to Peruggia, he did all of this to bring La Gioconda back to Italy, where it truly belonged.

The Italian was sentenced to one year and fifteen days in prison.

The story was a gold mine for half the world’s press for a good season. “The robbery of the century,” they said. But the news was short-lived. A few days after the Perugia sentence , the First World War broke out and the whereabouts of the Louvre star or the raids of the Picasso Band suddenly ceased to matter.