Picasso is famous for many things, whether it is for inventing cubism, for paintings like ‘Guernica’ for his wild entourage or for his striped t-shirts. One thing that most people would not call Picasso is a thief. Yet in 1911 he was a suspect for stealing the Mona Lisa.
The Louvre at the time was known for being easy to penetrate. In all other large museums around Europe, paintings were being secured to the walls, security ran around the clock, and any strange occurrences were quickly reported. In the Louvre it was very different. Paintings were still hung on the wall, security was present but absent-minded, and things often went missing. One reporter was so impressed by the lack of security at the Louvre that he famously spent the night in a mummy’s tomb.
However, when the Mona Lisa was stolen it was taken far more seriously. Yet despite how seriously people were taking the kidnapping (after all she was a beautiful woman) no one had any leads. For weeks on end, people would visit the museum and visit the space where the picture once was. The museum was in crisis. They had lost their most famous piece and had nowhere to turn. That was until one man stepped forward.
A man named Joseph Gery Pieret came to the Police and told them that he had stolen many pieces from the Louvre but not the Mona Lisa. He had accomplices too and it appeared that at one point Picasso had been a buyer of stolen Louvre art. The police were familiar with Picasso at the time as his group of friends was called ‘The Wild Men of Paris’ and they felt the group was sophisticated and crazy enough to attempt the robbery. It was not long before another member of Picasso’s posse gave him up.
Picasso was charged with dealing in stolen art property and would have faced serious punishment if he had not managed to get rid of some of the stolen goods in his property that were stamped with the museum’s name. However, due to a lack of evidence the case was thrown out of court and Picasso was let go free. It would turn out that he had nothing to do with the stolen Mona Lisa.
Instead, it was an Italian named Vincenzo Peruggia who had stolen the priceless art. It was found in 1913 in Florence. It turned out that Peruggia had not stolen the painting for money or fame but because he felt that the priceless piece, and perhaps the greatest piece of art in the world, should belong in its home, in Italy. Peruggia was arrested and the Mona Lisa was returned to its home in Paris. Security was quickly improved in the Louvre and such a daring feat has never been attempted.
The closest that we have ever come since is likely when Banksy entered the Louvre in 2004 wearing a disguise. He carried with him his own version of the Mona Lisa that had a smiley face in place of the woman’s famous grin. He succeeded in putting the painting up on a wall in the museum where it continued to hang for a period of time. No one will admit to how long the painting was there for but the Banksy version went on to sell for $70,000 so someone made a profit out of it at least.
The story of how Picasso almost got arrested for stealing the Mona Lisa is an incredible moment where we see traditional art clash with modern art. It shows a side to Picasso that many of us were unaware existed and most of us will never know the truth of.