As recently reported by the International New York Times, prominent art dealer Larry Gagosian of the Gagosian Gallery and the royal family of Qatar’s agent, Pelham Europe, Ltd. (run by Guy Bennett), each claim that they purchased Pablo Picasso’s work of a 1931 plaster bust of his French muse/mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, which is currently featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s (“MoMA”) “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition running through February 7, 2016. In each case, Picasso’s daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso was the seller.
The sculpture is considered a significant work from a highly creative time in Picasso’s life in which the “evolution of a new erotic style of curves and exaggerated forms” were inspired by his muse/mistress Walter.
Earlier this week, the Gagosian Gallery filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against Pelham Europe, Ltd. claiming that Gagosian purchased the bust in May 2015 for about $106 million from Widmaier-Picasso, and in turn sold it to a non-disclosed New York art collector who is expecting to receive the bust after the close of MoMA’s “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition in early February.
However, in its court documents, Pelham Europe, Ltd. claims that it secured an agreement with Widmaier-Picasso to purchase the bust in November 2014 for about $42 million.
The conflict reveals the
stubbornly elusive nature of an increasingly competitive art market, in which deals are made behind closed doors and ownership can be ambiguous.”
The case is reportedly complicated by the nature of Picasso’s family, which includes a number of family members (i.e., wives, muses, children and grandchildren) who have fought over the famed artist’s valuable works, and on a number of occasions sold off the works, throughout the years.
According to Artnet, Picasso’s total fine art sales in 2015 were over $652 million and surpassed Andy Warhol for the year.
In the recently filed suit, the Gagosian Gallery is requesting a judge to “quiet” any challenges or claims to its title of the bust and declare it the rightful owner.
Experts remark that this dispute between a dealer and a collector “casts a shadow over a prized piece of art history.”
For further background on the dispute, click here.
[The suit is Gagosian Gallery, Inc. v. Pelham Europe, Ltd., Case No. 1:2016cv00214, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)].