Sockless Art Thief Strolls Off With $200K Picasso From San Francisco Gallery

Sockless Art Thief Strolls Off With $200K Picasso From San Francisco Gallery
Whoever thought stealing a $200,000 Picasso could be so simple? A man wearing a jacket and loafers (but no socks) walked into Weinstein Gallery in San Fransisco Tuesday morning and walked out with "Tete de femme," a 1965 pencil drawing the size of a standard sheet of paper. Then, he hailed a cab, got in, and drove away.

The thief did have a discerning eye: the piece shared a niche with Marc Chagall's "Maternite Rouge," Salvador Dalí's "La Divine Comedie Inferno Canto 19," and Joan Miró's "Plat Personnages Bleu et Jeanue," a painted ceramic plate. The works were all quite valuable (the same Chagall lithograph sold last year at Christie's for $68,500). But the Picasso was the most expensive of the bunch, as well as the easiest to carry.

The piece had been double hooked to the wall for security. "Somehow there must have been a breach of that, and I can't tell you why," director Rowland Weinstein, who returned from his honeymoon to find that the piece had been stolen, told the San Fransisco Examiner.

The drawing is part of a group of works Picasso originally gave to his driver, Maurice Bresnu. The gallery purchased it this spring at Christie's for $122,500, above the $120,000 high estimate.

The gallery and the police are seeking the public's help to track down the work. "We're hoping someone in the public might recognize this piece, if they see someone walking around with it or trying to sell it," a police spokesman told the San Fransisco Chronicle. Sharon Flescher, head of the International Foundation for Art Research, noted that the work won't be easy to sell. "The legitimate collectors won't touch it," she told the Chronicle.

The San Fransisco art community already has some experience banding together to track down stolen work. Last year, a cooperative of local art dealers sent out an alert that a painting had been stolen from a private collection. A few days later, a woman came into Montgomery Gallery trying to sell the work. The gallery director recognized it, called the police, and the woman was arrested.

In the wake of the theft, Weinstein said he hopes to revise security procedures rather than remove valuable works from public view. "It would break my heart," he said of clearing blue-chip works from street level display. His greatest fear, he added, was that the thief would spook at all the attention and "dispose of it [the drawing] in a less-than-proper manner."

If it's neither disposed of or discovered, the Picasso drawing will join the ranks of Henri Matisse's "Pastoral," Picasso's "Dove with Green Peas," and Modigliani's "Woman with Fan," all stolen last year, yet to resurface.