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Court case pits US art dealer against Qatari royal family rep

Photo by Jebulon, licensed under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
Photo by Jebulon, licensed under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication


NEW YORK (AFP) – A prominent American art dealer has gone to court in a fight with a British collector — reportedly representing the Qatari royal family — over a Pablo Picasso sculpture valued at more than $100 million.

The work, “Bust of a Woman (Marie-Therese),” dated 1931, is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York as part of the largest exhibit of sculpture by the Spanish master in 50 years.

Larry Gagosian, who has worked with members of the Picasso family for years, is asking the federal court in Manhattan to reject the opposing side’s claim to the sculpture.

He contends that he purchased it in May 2015 from the daughter of the artist, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, for $105.8 million, according to a legal action he filed in federal court, viewed Wednesday by AFP.

The subject of the bust, Marie-Therese Walter, was Picasso’s mistress and model for several years and the mother of Widmaier-Picasso.

Gagosian said he had so far paid $79.7 million for the work, or 75 percent of the purchase value.

He also said he had concluded a sales agreement with a New York buyer, who expects to take possession of the sculpture once the exhibit ends on February 7.

Gagosian further states that he received a letter in October from a British trading firm, Pelham Europe, asserting its ownership of the sculpture and threatening to have it seized in New York.

That firm, founded and headed by a former expert from Christie’s auction house, Guy Bennett, contends that it reached an agreement in November 2014 to purchase the work from Widmaier-Picasso for 38 million euros ($41.3 million at current rates). It says the broker Connery, Pissaro, Seydoux served as intermediary.

But the artist’s daughter renounced the sale after a first payment of only six million euros, according to Gagosian’s legal filing.

A clause in the contract stipulated that the sale would only be considered as final once the entire price had been paid, court papers said.

The British company was working for the royal family of Qatar, Gagosian told The New York Times.

As The Times noted, the case is complicated by the  nature of Picasso’s family — his many wives, muses, children and grandchildren have for years wrangled over his valuable creations.

MoMA did not respond to AFP’s request for comment, and Pelham Europe could not immediately be reached.

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