Gagosian Fights Qatar Representatives for Right to Buy $100 Million Picasso Sculpture

Going once, no the highest bidder.

Pablo Picasso Bust of a Woman (Marie Therese) (1931)

Guy Bennett.
Image: Courtesy

Power dealer Larry Gagosian is engaged in a legal dispute with representatives of the royal Qatari family over who has the right to a deal for a nine-figure Picasso bust, according to the New York Times. International legal actions have also been filed in France and Switzerland, but for now, the 1931 piece Buste de Femme (Marie Therese) sits on display as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Picasso sculpture show, a wildly popular exhibition.

The high-stakes battle is complex and confusing, involving numerous accusations and claims over who first struck an agreement to buy the work, for how much, and with what kind of purchase agreement for the prized piece—which depicts Picasso’s lover and mistress Marie Thérèse—should prevail.

Larry Gagosian. Image: ©Patrick McMullan. David Crotty/PatrickMcMullan

Larry Gagosian.
Image: ©Patrick McMullan. David Crotty/PatrickMcMullan

Legal proceedings were first initiated in New York this past November by Pelham Europe, an advisory firm run by ex-Christie’s Impressionist and modern department head Guy Bennett. These were followed today by a lawsuit from Larry Gagosian. Each side asserts they struck an official deal to buy the work though the price more than doubled in that process.

The Times says Gagosian claims he bought the sculpture this past May, for approximately $106 million from Maya Widmaier-Picasso, on the advice of her daughter Diana. Gagosian then sold it to another collector who expected to take possession of it after the close of the MoMA show next month.

Photo: Courtesy

Diana Widmaier-Picasso.
Photo: Courtesy

But in a legal application filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in mid-November, Pelham sought an emergency order seeking testimonial and “document discovery” from Gagosian, the Gagosian Gallery, and Diana Widmaier-Picasso “relating to a purported sale.”

According to the filing, a copy of which was obtained by artnet News: “On November 13, 2014, [Maya] Widmaier-Picasso…entered into a contract to sell the sculpture to Pelham.” The agreed-upon price according to their filing was for €38 million or roughly $42 million to be paid “in three installments,” details of which are laid out in the document.

“Pelham made two out of three scheduled payments and was prepared to make the third when [Maya] Widmaier-Picasso repudiated the contract and refused to deliver the sculpture to Pelham, as promised. Instead, she and perhaps her daughter Diana Widmaier-Picasso have taken actions apparently designed to prevent Pelham from obtaining specific performance of the sale agreement,” according to the November filing.

Further, the statement says Maya’s counsel then “provided vague, shifting and inconsistent statements about [her] actions and the current status of the Sculpture; she may or may not have purported to sell it; she may have purported to sell it to Gagosian; she may have purported to consign it to Gagosian for sale to a third party.”

The filing says letters from Widmaier-Picasso’s counsel, Sabine Cordesse, contended that she “lacked the mental capacity to enter” into the sale. Earlier, Pelham had initiated actions in Switzerland and France in an attempt to establish their right to the sculpture, according to the documents.

Gagosian’s action filed today reportedly requests that a federal judge “quiet” any other claims to the work. According to a statement from the gallery provided to the Times: “We bought and sold the sculpture in good faith without knowledge of the alleged claim. We are entirely confident that our purchase and sale are valid and that Pelham has no rights to the work.”

Perhaps further complicating matters, the Times says the initial Widmaier-Picasso sale to Pelham was arranged through the now defunct advisory firm Connery, Pissarro, Seydoux, a short-lived advisory firm founded by ex-auction honchos Stephane Connery (an Impressionist specialist who is also the son of actor Sean Connery), Sandrine and Lionel Pissarro (the latter of whom is a descendant of artist Camille Pissarro), and Thomas Seydoux (a longtime Impressionist and modern specialist at Christie’s).

The filing by Pelham does not mention the Qatari family, but, according to the Times, Pelham purchased it on behalf of Sheik Jassim bin Abdulaziz al-Thani. He is married to Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority.

Gagosian asserts that the title of the sculpture passed to him this past October, after his third payment on the piece. He has reportedly paid $79.7 million, or 75 percent of the agreed-upon purchase price to date.

Neither Gagosian, nor his lawyer responded to artnet News’ request for comment. The law firm representing Pelham Europe had not responded to our requests for comment by publication time.

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