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Greek Picasso Thief Destroyed Rare Painting to Wipe Hands

Picasso Thief
Two of the three stolen artworks, a Cubist woman’s head and a windmill scene from Mondrian, are displayed at the Greek Culture Ministry on Tuesday. Credit: Greek Culture Ministry

The thief of the Picasso and Mondrian paintings who was arrested in Greece on Monday has revealed that he used another painting he stole from the National Gallery to “wipe his hands.”

Forty-nine-year-old Giorgos Sarmatzopoulos, a construction worker, was arrested as a suspect nine years after the art heist, which also included a windmill scene by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and a painting by Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia.

While the first two paintings were recovered and sent back to the National Gallery, the third was used, according to his own admission, to wipe off his hands as he was leaving the Gallery.

“I cut my hand from some glass and I used a paper that had a design on it which was an exhibit. I wiped my hand and threw the paper in the toilet,” the culprit said.

The “paper that had a design on it” was a painting by the Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia, better known as “il Moncalvo.”

Il Monclavo was active in a Mannerist style, depicting sacred subjects in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His best work, “Deposition from the Cross,” is at the church of San Gaudenzio in Novara. He also painted the cupola of the dome of San Paolo in Novara.

Picasso thief says he is sorry

Sarmatzopoulos now says he is sorry for the art theft, telling authorities on Tuesday that the decision to steal the Picasso and Mondrian paintings was “the biggest mistake of my life.”

Picasso’s “Woman’s Head” and Mondrian’s “Stammer Mill with Summer House,” were stolen in January of 2012 from the National Gallery in Athens. At the time Gallery officials came under withering criticism, as the facility had proactively no antitheft devices or procedures.

After the suspect was detained for questioning on Monday, the artworks were recovered, found wrapped in plastic sheets and hidden in a dry river bed outside Athens.

He told police there was no accomplice, and he maintains that he did not intend to sell the paintings.

“I did not intend to sell the paintings nor did I ever make any such effort,” he maintained.

“I was between Greece, Holland and England. At one point I confessed to a girl I had a relationship with in England that I had the paintings but she did not give a basis to what I said.”

On Wednesday, Sarmatzopoulos is expected to be a led before an Athens prosecutor. It is expected that he will ask for a few days to prepare his testimony. His lawyer told Greek media that he has shown regret for the theft and has cooperated fully with the police.

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