The nerve of this guy! A casual crook who sauntered down a busy Union Square street Tuesday with a Picasso original under his armpit has locals and merchants stunned at the nonchalant midday heist.
Police are hunting the crook — known to some as the “Preppy Sockless Picasso Thief” — after he walked into the Weinstein Gallery at Geary and Powell streets, plucked the framed 1962 sketch “Tête de femme” from a wall near the front, then walked less than a half-block to a waiting cab — as if he had time to kill.
After all, the one-of-a-kind drawing by Pablo Picasso is only worth $200,000.
“I mean, who would walk down the street with a Picasso?” said Nick Bovis, owner of Geary Street eatery Lefty O’Douls, which released video surveillance footage Wednesday of a man who may have been the thief.
Lefty O’Douls, located a few doors down from the art gallery, exhibited video showing a man walking on the sidewalk toward to the Handlery Hotel, where the thief caught a cab. Police say the man in the video appears to be the suspect.
The Picasso sketch was covered with nothing but a folded newspaper. The piece measures about 8 inches by 11 inches, according to the gallery.
A gallery employee is seen on the video passing right by the crook. The unwitting but suspicious employee turned to watch as the bandit made his way to the taxicab.
The man in the video wore a grayish jacket, light pants, and loafers without socks. Police described him as a white man about 6 feet tall between 32 and 35 years old.
Cops hope that a taxicab’s security camera will also help identify the thief. On Tuesday night, cops interviewed the cabbie who picked up the crook and impounded his car to hunt for evidence, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.
Details of the interview with the cabbie were not released. The driver works for Black & White Checker Cabs. The cab company declined to comment Wednesday.
Gallery owner Rowland Weinstein said the one-of-a-kind work is irreplaceable, an “extraordinary original drawing by Pablo Picasso.” Weinstein acquired the piece in May at a New York auction for about $125,000.
Weinstein's gallery also features works by Calder, Chagall, Dali and Matisse, along with contemporary artists.
Weinstein said he was shocked by the loss, having never had a major piece stolen in his 20s years in San Francisco.
“Most galleries that show this caliber of artwork don’t put it on street level,” he said. “It’s very upsetting, because my goal is to keep this kind of work accessible to the public.”
The brazen heist created quite a buzz downtown.
Linda Mjellem, executive director of the Union Square Association, said Wednesday art galleries use intentionally visible security cameras to deter thieves.
“In this case obviously it didn’t,” Mjellem said.
She said such a theft was unprecedented in Union Square.
Lefty O’Douls faced fire from police after it released the video footage to both the media and police.
Cops said the release could have prompted the crook to flee the region.
Bovis said he hopes locals who watch the video will call police if they spot thief.