Thursday, 11 August, 2022

Officials seize $460,000 Picasso sketch at Ibiza airport

Authorities in Ibiza seized a Picasso sketch worth more than $460,000, after a traveler failed to declare it to airport customs, according to a joint statement released by Spain's Tax Agency and Civil Guard.

The unnamed passenger, who arrived on the Spanish island on a flight from Switzerland, initially attempted to pass the drawing off as a copy of little monetary value. But a gallery invoice discovered in his luggage appeared to identify the work as an original.

The alleged smuggling attempt took place in early July, though officials only released details of the incident on Monday after a preliminary analysis suggested that the signed sketch was a genuine Picasso work.

Spanish authorities said their Swiss counterparts had tipped them off about an airline passenger "carrying a work of art in circumstances (they) considered suspicious." When the man attempted to pass through the green lane at Ibiza Airport, indicating he had nothing to declare on arrival, customs officers searched his luggage and uncovered the sketch.

At first, the passenger claimed the drawing was just a copy and produced a hand-written receipt for 1,500 Swiss francs ($1,534). But during an "in-depth" search officials discovered a second invoice, issued by a Zurich art gallery, that listed the sale of a 1966 Picasso work called "Trois personnages" ("Three figures") for 450,000 Swiss francs (around $461,000).

An initial inspection by the director of a local museum, the Eivissa Contemporary Art Museum in Ibiza, found that the artwork is an original Picasso with a market value "in line" with the amount stated on the gallery invoice.

Born in Spain in 1881, Picasso is thought to have completed 13,500 paintings and around 100,000 prints and engravings in his lifetime. He was a prolific sketcher, with his drawings frequently selling at auction for tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2017, his 1940 ink drawing "Le Viol" ("The Rape") fetched almost $8.7 million at Sotheby's in New York.

Art experts will undertake further analysis of "Trois personnages" as part of an ongoing investigation.

Goods brought into Spain from outside the European Union, including Switzerland, are subject to duties and VAT. As the sketch's value is thought to exceed 150,000 euros ($152,000), the incident is being treated as a smuggling attempt, the Tax Agency said.