Thursday, 22 August 2013

22 August 1911 - theft of the Mona Lisa. Chief suspects: Guillaume Apollinaire and his accomplice Pablo Picasso...

On 22 August 1911, the painter Louis Béroud made his habitual visit to the Louvre art museum in Paris and headed straight to the gallery housing the Mona Lisa, as he wished to make a copy of the world's most famous painting. But when he arrived, his artist's eyes, trained to see things in fine detail, noticed that the painting was missing.

But Louis was unconcerned, and even joked with the guard: 'Who knows where women ever get to? When they're not with their lovers they're with their photographers.' Ha ha ha! However, when, hours later, the lady with the enigmatic smile had not returned, Louis despatched the guard to consult the museum photographer in case he had taken it. The photographer's reply? 'Negative.'

Panic ensued! They've stolen the Mona Lisa! Nom de Dieu! The head of museum security and sixty officers searched the building with a fine tooth comb. Nothing doing! The only clue, a lonely fingerprint on the glass recently installed to safeguard the work from....theft!

The fingerprint is compared with the museum's 257 employees, but there is no match. The museum director resigns and the conspiracy theories commence. The far right sees the spectre of a Jewish plot. The German emperor Wilhelm II is a suspect, at least for one newspaper. A reward of 25,000 francs for the painting's recovery is offered by the Society of Friends of the Louvre. A newspaper doubles the amount. Then someone suggests that the only way to solve the crime is to send for Patricia Cornwell, until it is pointed out that she would not be born until 1956.

But the theft is also good for business, as more 'art lovers' visit the art gallery to look at the empty space than ever came to look at the painting!

Then, suddenly, out of the blue, like a clap of thunder, on 7 September, the police make a breakthrough (or so they think). They arrest the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, sling him in the slammer (or slam him in the slinger), and search his rooms. 

Marie Laurencin and Apollinaire
Painting by Douanier Rousseau (1909)
It seems that years earlier the poet had been the recipient of stolen goods, namely primitive statuettes, allegedly levitated from the Louvre by his secretary at the time Géry Pieret. Present on the day the stash was handed over was Pablo Picasso. Then Pieret disappeared, only to resurface after the theft of the Mona Lisa, when, on 28 August, he visited the offices of the publication Paris-Journal with a statuette that he claimed to have stolen from the Louvre in 1904. The next day Paris-Journal published its article, and Guillaume and Pablo were thrown into a wet panic.

What should they do with the statuette bought from Pieret and obviously stolen from the Louvre? The two men consult. Perhaps inspired by Guillaume's most celebrated poem - Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine / Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine - they decide to throw it into the river! 

But Guillaume has cold feet. So instead, under cover of darkness, they deposit the statuette at the doors of Paris-Journal, and then make a run for it. 

After his arrest and detention on 7 September, an investigating magistrate decided that Apollinaire was not behind the theft of the Mona Lisa, and on 12 September he was released without charge.

It was not until December 1913 that the true culprit identified himself as one Vincenzo Peruggia, who, while posing under the name of Vincenzo Leonard, tried to sell the painting to an art dealer in Florence. But the art dealer had him arrested and the painting was returned to the Louvre where it resides to this day, as haughty and enigmatic as ever!

1 comment:

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