Simon de Pury Wins Legal Battle Over the Commission of a $210 Million Gauguin Painting

The lawsuit has revealed details about the private sale between a former Sotheby's executive and the Qatari emir.

Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?), 1892. Photo: courtesy the Beyeler Foundation.
Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?), 1892. Photo courtesy of the Beyeler Foundation.

In what could be a precedent-setting case, the art dealer and auctioneer Simon de Pury and his wife Michaela de Pury announced their victory on Tuesday in a closely watched legal battle in which they sought a $10 million commission for assisting with the 2015 sale of a $210 million painting by Paul Gauguin.

 

The Telegraph reported that the sale took place after a series of meetings between Simon de Pury and Guy Bennett, a former Christie’s executive who now works for the emir of Qatar as director of collections and acquisitions for the state’s museums.

Bennett and de Pury reportedly first met in 2012 to discuss a potential deal for Nafea faa ipoipo (When Will You Marry) (1892), a Gauguin painting of two Tahitian girls. The family of Rudolf Staechelin, a childhood friend of de Pury and a former Sotheby’s executive, owned the work at the time.

De Pury reportedly approached Staechelin to gauge his interest in selling the work, and Staechelin said he would not accept less than $250 million for it, according to the Telegraph. At that point negotiations stalled but resumed again in 2014, and the sale eventually went through.

The de Purys claimed they were owed the $10 million commission as part of a “gentleman’s agreement” for helping negotiate the sale.

Staechelin’s attorney John Wardell told the Telegraph this past summer that de Pury “lured him to the table by saying the Qataris were willing to pay $230 million,” despite his alleged knowledge that the Qataris had set a limit of $210 million.

Wardell called this “a clear breach of fiduciary duty,” and that the commission should thus be forfeited “if any right ever existed.” Wardell did not respond to artnet News’s request for comment on the ruling.

The legal battle, brought in UK High Court, drew art world attention this past summer particularly because it exposed details of the private 2015 deal, which was initially billed as the most expensive artwork ever sold in private, at a reported $300 million (though the lawsuit later revealed the price to be $90 million less than that, and it has since been eclipsed by this past fall’s auction of Leonardo da Vinci‘s Salvator Mundi at Christie’s for $450.3 million).

The Gauguin painting had been owned by the Staechelin family for more than 100 years. During the legal proceedings, Staechelin told the court that de Pury “pestered” him to sell. De Pury responded: “I never pester.”

De Pury did not comment beyond the information he posted on Instagram Tuesday morning. Alongside a photo of himself in front of the painting, he wrote:

This morning Mr. Justice Morgan at the High Court in London gave his verdict on the court case relating to the sale of Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece Nafea faa Ipoipo. I am delighted with the outcome of this case and the fact that justice has prevailed. It was a privilege for Michaela de Pury and I to have arranged the sale of this fabulous painting. It is regrettable that for the first time in over 45 years in the art market I was forced to issue legal proceedings. Michaela and I had to wait for more than three years for our role in this transaction to be recognized. We both greatly look forward to our continued activities in the art world.


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