A sketch, “Femme”, purportedly by Pablo Picasso, missing for 10 years since it was the centre of a court case involving Mayor Tom Tate, has surfaced for sale online. Photo: Supplied
A sketch, “Femme”, purportedly by Pablo Picasso, missing for 10 years since it was the centre of a court case involving Mayor Tom Tate, has surfaced for sale online. Photo: Supplied

Missing Picasso turns up after a decade

A MISSING artwork at the centre of a court case involving Mayor Tom Tate has mysteriously popped up for sale online after not being seen for more than a decade.

The sketch, titled "Femme" and purportedly the work of Pablo Picasso, has been advertised at "price by negotiation", on a detailed "Picasso Femme" website created via a Canadian domain company which has hidden the identity of the person who registered it.

Femme, along with a silk-screen print from Warhol's renowned Marilyn series, featured in several court cases involving Cr Tate and his former business associate Francis Kovacevic, who has also been known as Frank Kendt.

Femme had belonged to renowned flamenco guitarist and art collector Fernando Da Costa, whose grandfather made shoes for Picasso in France and received it as a gift.

A sketch, purportedly by Pablo Picasso, that has been missing for 10 years since it was the centre of a court case involving Mayor Tom Tate, has surfaced for sale online. Photo: Supplied
A sketch, purportedly by Pablo Picasso, that has been missing for 10 years since it was the centre of a court case involving Mayor Tom Tate, has surfaced for sale online. Photo: Supplied

The website alludes to Mr Da Costa's story in its description of the artwork's provenance, claiming it "was acquired by Pablo Picasso's shoemaker in the 1960s and handed down through the family".

It includes numerous high-resolution images of the piece and detailed descriptions of the paper marks, ink bleeds, signature and other features.

The site also said Femme was "listed as one of Picasso's greatest artworks, along side Picasso's Women of Algiers which is the most expensive artwork sold at auction in 2015 for $179 million on the Art History Archive website".

A sketch, purportedly by Pablo Picasso, that has been missing for 10 years since it was the centre of a court case involving Mayor Tom Tate, has surfaced for sale online. Photo: Supplied
A sketch, purportedly by Pablo Picasso, that has been missing for 10 years since it was the centre of a court case involving Mayor Tom Tate, has surfaced for sale online. Photo: Supplied

However, accredited art valuer Peter Wright discredited that claim, adding that Women of Algiers, known by its French name as Les Femmes d'Alger, was an exquisitely detailed painting from Picasso's revered cubism period while Femme was a scant sketch of unclear date.

"To claim this is in any way at all one of his greatest artworks is problematic, I don't accept that at all," Mr Wright said.

"It may well be a genuine Picasso, but it's going to struggle to get serious money from a serious gallery or buyer given it's ink on paper."

Art Collector Fernando Da Costa at his northern NSW home in 2013.
Art Collector Fernando Da Costa at his northern NSW home in 2013.

The valuer said the vague story about the painting's ownership and origin would not appeal to genuine buyers.

"There is the story about the shoemaker and that's presumably part of the provenance," he said.

"But the art world has to have a paper trail with provenance it would have to be documented for anyone to take it seriously.

"The paper trail of provenance is not clear in this and that worries me."

The one person who could provide such a paper trail, Mr Da Costa, 81, is unlikely to provide it for the mystery seller.

In court documents, Mr Da Costa said Cr Tate provided $50,000 as a deposit for the collection of artworks including the sketch that the collector agreed to hand over to Mr Kovacevic for a value of $3.78 million.

A copy of the cheque tendered to court.
A copy of the cheque tendered to court.

The remainder, Mr Da Costa said, was covered by Mr Kovacevic via $1.5 million in forestry bonds that turned out to have no value, a cheque that bounced and two residential apartments that were not his to give.

Mr Da Costa took Mr Kovacevic to court in an attempt to recover the Picasso, offering to return Cr Tate's $50,000 in exchange for it.

Mr Kovacevic, in defending the claim, said the amount of the deal was $2.178 million and that he'd only acted as an agent for it.

His defence also said he'd assumed the cheque would be honoured when he gave it to Mr Da Costa and denied he'd suggested the bonds were worth $1.5 million.

The court proceedings were discontinued when the retiree ran out of money to fund it.

Multiple attempts to contact Mr Da Costa, and the operator of the Picasso Femme website, were unsuccessful yesterday.

Cr Tate last month made a public call for great works of art to populate the $60 million art gallery he has planned for the city.

He yesterday said he was unaware Femme had been listed for sale and did not know the current whereabouts of that piece nor the Warhol Marilyn piece.

"There are many reproductions of Femme circulating worldwide so my advice is: be careful which Femme you decide to get in bed with," he said via email from the United States.

The Mayor could not rule out either piece being exhibited in the city gallery in future.

"Let's see what art pieces are put forward as part of this initiative," he said.

"I encourage the Bulletin to show some patriotic spirit and get behind Australian artists, rather than focusing just on Picasso or Warhol."

Cr Tate said collectors had already expressed interest in exhibiting work in the new gallery, slated to open at the end of next year.

"We are off to a good start. I plan writing to the top 300 notables in Australia, as well as a handful of international art connoisseurs internationally," he said.

"I am confident the generosity of Australians and those overseas will shine through this initiative.

"I will meet with the HOTA Board early this year but my focus is on 60s to 80s pop art as one of the first key exhibitions once the gallery opens.

"Of course, we will be guided by what pieces are made available through this call-to-action but if I had my way, it'd be 60s to 80s pop art."