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corner ...a famous artist who became a suspect
On August 29th, 1911, a Parisian tabloid broke the scandalous news: La Joconde was not the only work of art to go missing from the Louvre. The Paris-Journal published a letter from an anonymous source who bragged that he had stolen three primitive sculptures from the Louvre over the past several months. He asked a "finder's fee" of 250 francs for one, claiming the others were in the possession of two un-named associates.

Delighted to have more evidence of an already outrageous situation, the newspaper arranged a drop off and made the payment. They then called in a museum curator, who confirmed the statue's authenticity. Eager to pick up the lead, police detectives quickly identified the thief as one Géry Piéret.

Author Seymour Reit tells the story: "Géry Piéret was a starving artist who liked to go to the Louvre and just poke around and enjoy the artwork. One day he saw a storeroom with an open door, which was not so unusual in those days. He walked in and there were a lot of precious small sculptures stored there, a lot of Iberian pieces and African pieces and Middle Eastern pieces. He had a big overcoat on, so he took a couple and put 'em in his pocket and just walked out of the Louvre!"

But Piéret managed to skip town before the police could get their hands on him. Instead, they closed in on his two associates. One was his former employer and friend, Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet, editor and art critic who had been most vocal in his censure of the lax security at the Louvre. The other was Apollinaire's close friend – one of several disaffected young artists living in Paris at the time – a young Spanish painter named Pablo Picasso.

young Pablo Picasso
For mere pocket change, Piéret had sold some Iberian masks from the Louvre to Picasso who, in fairness, did not know where they had come from. The young artist had been enchanted by the pieces, which were said to have inspired two of the figures in his famous work, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, considered by many to be the first cubist painting.

As the detectives closed in, Apollinaire and Picasso panicked. Anyone down on the banks of the Seine that night would have witnessed a suspicious scene. According to Reit: "They put these little statuettes in a suitcase, and they went down to the Seine to dump them in the river. But, neither of them had the nerve to do it. They simply couldn't take these beautiful little precious sculptures that they both loved and throw them away."

Instead they resolved to rid themselves of the stolen goods by delivering them to Paris-Journal, hoping to avoid further investigation. The next morning, headlines filled the front page:

WHILE AWAITING THE MONA LISA,
THE LOUVRE RECOVERS ITS TREASURES
Two New Restitutions are Made to
Paris-Journal
The possessor of the two other stolen statuettes
mentioned by 'Our Thief' turns them in to us.

"Apollinaire was kept in jail overnight," says Reit. "It was the trauma of his life. Picasso was called in the next day. They both broke down in front of the judge. They apologized. They wept. They blubbered. In any event, the judge was very kind. He realized that these poor fools couldn't possibly have stolen the Mona Lisa, and he let them go with a slap on the wrist."


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