In the early morning of Monday, Aug. 21, 1911, the world's most what is now the world's most famous painting, the "Mona Lisa," was stolen from its glass case at the Louvre.
We know several things about the heist for sure. One, it happened. Two, it happened when no one was around, which wasn't too hard because, at the time, the Louvre had fewer than 150 guards protecting 250,000 valuable objects. If you like useless stats, that works out to roughly 1,667 valuable objects per guard, if they'd all been present. And the museum was closed that day. Three, it was stolen by an Italian and self-declared artist named Vincenzo Peruggia, who had helped install the glass case surrounding the painting and thus knew its weaknesses. After spending the night in a closet at the museum, Peruggia plucked the painting off the wall and walked out with the 20-by-30-inch masterpiece concealed under his clothing.
News that someone had taken the "Mona Lisa" -- pointed out by a guest when the museum reopened on Tuesday -- made headlines around the world. At the time, the painting was unfamiliar to many people, art historian Noah Charney told the BBC, as she'd just begun to gain serious critical praise in the mid-19th century. Media coverage of the heist helped make her a household name.
In the course of the investigation, French authorities questioned Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. Here's why Picasso TOTALLY DID IT could have been a legitimate suspect.
1. He was living in France at the time.
This is common knowledge.
2. He was friends with the writer Guillaume Apollinaire, whom police briefly jailed in association with the Louvre theft.
Classic guilt by association. After the "Mona Lisa" vanished, a man named Honoré Joseph Géry Pieret turned over a statuette he'd stolen from the Louvre to an editor at the Paris Journal, which had offered a reward for information about the "Mona Lisa" heist. The paper published a photograph under the headline "A Thief Brings Us a Work Stolen from the Louvre." After the police showed up, though, Pieret led them straight to his old boss, Apollinaire, implicating him in the whole mess. He knew what Pieret did, but Apollinaire had (probably) nothing to do with the actual theft of those statuettes. Or (probably) the "Mona Lisa."
3. He'd technically purchased stolen artworks before.
Oh, those statuettes? Picasso paid Pieret for a couple of them some time before the Mona Lisa heist, as Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler explain in their book, The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft and Detection. He owned stolen art. He may have even asked for it to be stolen. (!!!) But after the media attention surrounding "Mona Lisa," besties Picasso and Apollinaire had (understandably) wanted to get rid of the contraband. They put the statuettes in a suitcase, brought them to the river ... but couldn't bring themselves to toss 'em in. Picasso had used the little things, two Iberian stone heads, as models for a work titled “Demoiselles d’Avignon" (1907).
4. He pretended he didn't know his very good friend in a courtroom.
Sketchy AF. When the two creatives were summoned in front of a magistrate as suspected thieves, they contradicted each other. Picasso said he'd never even seen Apollinaire before because he was so terrified, allegedly, of being deported back to Spain. Meanwhile, Apollinaire implicated his friend in the actual thieving act.
From the detectives' points of view, if they'd stolen once, they could've done it again -- and at a bigger scale. Yet they were unable to find any connection between Appollinaire, Picasso and the whereabouts of the "Mona Lisa."
5. He loved art, duh.
For all the painting's obscurity in the public realm, the art world -- including Picasso -- was well aware of its great beauty. Who wouldn't want that in his house? There's the "Mona Lisa," giving side-eye as you eat your morning cereal, watching you pick out all the marshmallows. There she is, giving side-eye as you sit on the sofa and read, knowing you're only really looking at the pictures. There she is again, giving side-eye as you try to sleep, and watching -- always watching.
Anyway, Picasso was never charged with stealing the "Mona Lisa." Peruggia was caught in December 1913 trying to offload the painting to an Italian art collector. As an Italian and art-lover himself, Peruggia claimed he wanted to see the great work returned to its home -- da Vinci had painted it there around 1503. But that doesn't mean Picasso hadn't orchestrated the whole thing (in our imaginations).
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