The story of Picasso’s disappearance in Philadelphia was perhaps too strange for Philadelphia.
Billy Penn has retracted a story published yesterday after people posted photos of them flying around town offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of a “missing Picasso drawing” was.
It is not clear whether such an image exists. In two separate interviews and a series of emails Monday morning, a man claiming to be Steven Sergiovanni, a New York City-based art curator, told Billy Penn that an unidentified client had moved from Greenwich, Connecticut to Philadelphia, a 1920 charcoal drawing by Pablo Picasso sent. mid-April, and that it was lost in transit.
The real mystery was that the man who claimed to be Steven Sergiovanni—a unique name for which public records list just one match in New York City—was a fraud.
“It’s very bizarre,” the real Sergiovanni said in a phone call on Tuesday. “I can’t even imagine why anyone would do that.”
Sergiovanni said that he works with emerging artists in New York, and not with the works of heritage artists like Picasso. To the best of his knowledge, he is also the only Steven Sergiovanni in the country outside his family.
In two phone interviews and several emails on Monday, the fraudster sent Billy Penn frequent stories about his client’s plight. He stated that the charcoal drawing was “obtained directly from Picasso by a late relative” of the client, and that he hired private investigators to track down the piece because of its sentimental value, among other specific details.
“It’s not just his, but it’s been a family item throughout his life. It’s a 12-by-18 drawing, charcoal on newsprint,” said the cheater, providing a high-resolution piece Which resembles the work of Picasso from the Cubist period.
The basic details in the story did not change at any point during the interview. The fraudster noted that he had not reported the stolen item to law enforcement agencies such as the Philadelphia Police Department or the FBI. art crime department, which investigates criminal activity around cultural property.
Why would someone cover the city with posters looking for the alleged Picasso and try to spread the story by impersonating a real curator?
The origin of the image of the drawing printed on the fliers remains unclear. Online reverse image search did not yield an exact match. Late art historian Christian Zarvoso Cataloged over 16,000 works of Picasso throughout his career, and others are still being certified.
Jeffrey Fuller, and Art Dealers in PhiladelphiaSaid that the alleged Picasso was suspicious. The 12×18 size drawing would have been unusual for the time, and it is unlikely that Picasso would have been working on newsprint, as originally indicated.
“It’s not Picasso – it’s not someone who draws a lot,” Fuller said while reviewing the image. “If I saw her in a number one store, I’d say no, well not. But I’m not a world expert, I could be wrong.”
Megan Latona, logistics manager at Freeman Auction House in Philadelphia, said counterfeit art and false claims of missing art are common in the art world. But impersonating a curator to make a fake claim was beyond him.
“It sounds like insurance fraud, unless this guy is weird,” Latona said. “The real question is: Why? Why would they do this? If it’s not for insurance fraud, there’s really no other reason.”
Attempts to reach the fake Sergiovanni again via phone and email were not successful.
Editor Danya Henninger’s statement:
Billy Penn is retracting an article published on May 3, 2021, titled “A rare Picasso drawing sent to Philadelphia has gone missing.” The main source named was not the person they claimed to be. The article did not meet the standards we work hard to achieve with so many important stories told on a daily basis. As the editor, the mistake is mine, and I apologize to all readers for the error.
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