Billionaire Leon Black Revealed as Mystery Buyer for Contested Picasso Bust

Who will win this tug-of-war?

Leon Black. Courtesy Apollo Global Management.
Leon Black. Photo: Apollo Global Management.

Leon Black.
Photo: Apollo Global Management.

To whom was gallerist Larry Gagosian trying to sell a contested Pablo Picasso bust? The secret buyer, finally revealed thanks to federal court documents, is Leon D. Black, the billionaire founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management and co-chairman of the board of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), reports the New York Times.

The 1931 plaster sculpture, Bust of a Woman, is currently on view in the exhibition “Picasso Sculpture” at MoMA. Black purchased the artwork from Gagosian at an unknown price. The megadealer had previously purchased it for $106 million from Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, according to the Times,

The curious looking sculpture is a portrait of Widmaier-Picasso’s mother, Marie-Thérèse Walter, the artist’s mistress and muse. The conflict stems from the fact that Widmaier-Picasso reportedly arranged to sell the work not once but twice, triggering a legal battle across three countries. To date, lawsuits have been filed in New York, Switzerland, and France.

Originally, Widmaier-Picasso planned to sell the sculpture to an agent of the Qatari royal family for $42 million. That sale, arranged in 2014, allegedly fell through when Widmaier-Picasso moved to repudiate the contract.

The Art Market Monitor reports that according to a forthcoming Bloomberg story by Katya Kazakina, Widmaier-Picasso pulled out of the deal due to a dispute among her children. Widmaier-Picasso’s son Oliver reportedly helped arrange the original deal behind the back of his sister Diana Widmaier-Picasso, who had allegedly spoken with Gagosian about a sale at a much higher price, and may have convinced Maya to change her mind.

With the end of the popular MoMA exhibition looming, Gagosian and the Qatari royal family have agreed to store the artwork at Gagosian Gallery until the dispute is resolved.

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