As It Happens

'I was about to cry,' says Greek art advisor after stolen Picasso painting recovered

In 2012, Greece succumbed to a nation-wide anguish after three pieces of art were stolen from the National Gallery in Athens.

Stelios Garipis says Picasso's Woman's Head, gifted to Greece after WW II, has 'historic and national value'

Home at last. A cubist female bust by Pablo Picasso, left, and a 1905 painting of a riverside windmill by Piet Mondrian, both stolen, were recovered by police are displayed in Athens on Tuesday. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

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In 2012, Greece succumbed to a nation-wide anguish after three pieces of art were stolen from the National Gallery in Athens. 

Now, Greek police say they've arrested a suspect in connection with the heist and have located the missing pieces, except for a sketch by Italian Mannerist Guglielmo Caccia, which police say was flushed down a toilet by the suspect after being damaged. 

The paintings retrieved include Spanish artist Pablo Picasso's Woman's Head and Dutch artist Piet Mondrian's Stammer Mill with Summer House. Picasso gave Woman's Head to the Greek people to observe the country's resilience against the Nazis. 

The recovered paintings serve as a triumph to the Greek art community. Stelios Garipis, an art advisor in Greece, is among the many people celebrating their return. 

Listen: Garipis tells As It Happens about the recovered paintings: 

Garipis spoke to As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal on Wednesday. Here is part of their conversation. 

Is relief the right word to describe ... how you are feeling now that the Picasso and the Mondrian have been recovered? 

Since I am a collector and an art enthusiast, I was thrilled to hear these paintings were found and soon they will be exposed [at the] National Gallery.

Concerning the Picasso painting, it was a national joy, a day of joy, because this Picasso painting was a personal gift to the Greek people. 

Picasso, after World War II, offered this painting.... It was a portrait to Greek people as a recognition for their resistance to Germans and the Nazis.

That's why it was the painting with not only artistic value, but also a real historic and national value. 

 

It was the painting with not only artistic value, but also a real historic and national value. - Stelios Garipis, art advisor 

How did the robbery unfold, if you could take us back to nine years ago? 

There were two robbers that entered the building. The guards said that they acted very fast. They grabbed the three paintings and they got out. 

The security guards were sure and they said definitely there were two robbers. Now the police found a man who was allegedly the one robber. And according to his statements, it was a one-man show.

And for nine years, he was trying to [figure out] what he's going to do with these paintings. He didn't have, according to his statement, an objective. ... He just had these paintings at his house.

Stelios Garipis is an art advisor who works at auction houses and museums in Athens, Greece. (Submitted by Stelios Garipis)

He said he was an art lover, as I understand it. 

According to his Twitter account that we've started following, he was following all auction houses.... He was following all the litigations concerning the stolen artworks.

And he was an art dealer. Something like that. He was presented as an art dealer. Now, according to his defence, he was a construction worker. But no one believes this.

What happens next in terms of the case? 

We are waiting for the next hearing, which is scheduled for [Thursday]. And I am very curious to listen to his statements and his defence concerning the third painting.

The Picasso left, and the Mondrian are displayed by police officers in Athens during a press conference on Tuesday. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

The mystery continues in some ways — in a lot of ways. But how did police finally figure out who they believe had these paintings? How did police get to the bottom of the case? 

We still don't know, since the inquiry is still secret. We don't know how they managed to arrest him.

He was about to fly to Amsterdam and he was arrested and he indicated to the policeman the place where he had hidden the two of these stolen paintings. Because, as he said, he was embarrassed. He was really embarrassed after some newspaper articles concerning the case last February. 

What finally is it going to feel like for you, Mr. Garipis, to see the Picasso hanging, as it should, inside the gallery? 

It will be a very big relief for me because when I heard the news, I started shouting in the street ... I started shouting like crazy. I was about to cry.

This painting has the value of the Guernica painting. It reminds [me] of my people's, Greek people's, fight against Nazism during World War II. It's a Picasso painting, after all. 

My son has never seen the Picasso painting in Greece. We have to go to parties, we have to go to Barcelona to see Picasso paintings. It's the only Picasso painting in Greece. 


Written by Keena Alwahaidi. Interview produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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