You are here

Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

Thursday, February 26, 2015

U.S. Attorney Files Civil Action To Forfeit Stolen Picasso

Cubist Painting Was Smuggled Into The United States As A $37 Craft

A civil complaint was filed today in federal court in Brooklyn to forfeit a century-old cubist painting by Pablo Picasso known as “La Coiffeuse” (in English, “The Hairdresser”). La Coiffeuse, which is owned by the French government, was reported stolen from a museum storeroom in Paris, France in 2001. When it was shipped to the United States from Belgium on December 17, 2014, the painting was falsely described as an “art craft” and “art craft toy” valued at 30 Euros. Upon its arrival in the United States, the shipment was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the painting was subsequently seized by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The complaint alleges that the painting is stolen property that was smuggled into the United States contrary to law.

The complaint was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Anthony Scandiffio, Deputy Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HSI, New York.

“A lost treasure has been found,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Because of the blatant smuggling in this case, this painting is now subject to forfeiture to the United States. Forfeiture of the painting will extract it from the grasp of the black market in stolen art so that it can be returned to its rightful owner.” Ms. Lynch thanked the French government and the Centre Georges Pompidou for their assistance.

“The recovery of the La Coiffeuse sends a strong message to thieves that the market to sell stolen antiquities in the United States is drying up,” said HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge Scandiffio. “HSI is committed to using its resources to successfully investigate and, more importantly, repatriate smuggled antiquities and other protected cultural property to their rightful owners.”

La Coiffeuse, painted by Picasso in 1911, is an oil-on-canvas painting that measures 33 by 46 centimeters. It was bequeathed to the National Museums of France by its former director, Georges Salles in 1966, and assigned to the collections of the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, France. It was last publicly exhibited in Munich, Germany, where it was on loan to the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung. Upon its return to Paris, La Coiffeuse was placed in the storerooms of the Centre George Pompidou. The painting was believed to be in storage until a loan request was received in 2001, and museum staff discovered that the painting was missing. In November 2001, the painting was reported as stolen to the French police. The painting’s location remained unknown until it arrived in the United States in December 2014.

The shipping label attached to the package containing La Coiffeuse described its contents as “Art Craft / 30 E / Joyeux Noel,” indicating that the package contained a low-value handicraft shipped as a holiday present. The commercial invoice shipped with the painting similarly described the contents as an “Art Craft / Toy” valued at 30 Euros, or approximately $37 U.S. dollars. The current market value of La Coiffeuse is estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

The government’s case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Karin Orenstein.

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 15-CV- 1002

Updated July 2, 2015