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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Affair of the Statues

In the early morning hours of August 22, 1911, as guards and workers made their opening rounds of the Louvre museum in Paris they made a startling discovery. The much-touted centerpiece of the entire museum's collections was missing! Headlines in the Paris-Journal the next day screamed indignantly: THE MONA LISA--STOLEN!! The newspaper offered a ransom for the return of the Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece, while Paris and the other art centers in the world were in an uproar. The next day, in hopes of receiving a comparable ransom, an unidentified person turned over a Phoenician head stolen the previous May which had never been publicly disclosed. More than that, he told of two Iberian heads had been stolen in 1907. There is some disagreement as to whether the museum had even realized these works were missing. But in any case, they too had never been reported. This, in itself, caused something of a scandal.       

Guillaume Appollinare, 1914
The anonymous person was Gery-Pieret. A former employee of the Louvre, he'd had little difficulty smuggling the obscure works out of the facility. Shortly thereafter, he'd managed to sell them. The buyers? One was sold to the art collector and dealer Apollinare, while the other one was purchased by his friend, Pablo Picasso. Picasso, a Spanish citizen living in Paris, was frightened that he might be deported if his involvement in the "affair of the statues" was revealed so he nervously arranged through Apollinare to get rid of his "hot" art relic. The two carved heads were quickly returned via the Paris-Journal.   
Police apparently were informed of Apollinare's identity.  They arrested him and charged him with harboring a criminal thought to be connected with the Mona Lisa theft. But after four days of interrogation, they released the reputable gallery owner. Picasso's name was never mentioned. He continued to live in France for the rest of his life, his involvement in the nasty little affair not revealed until some thirty years later. Likewise, it turned out that Gery-Pieret had nothing whatsoever to do with the theft of the Mona Lisa. The immortal queen of the Louvre was successfully freed from captivity two years later in Milan, Italy. The thief had stolen the painting by simply removing it from its frame, tucking the priceless canvas under his painter's smock, and walking out of the museum unnoticed.  

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