Published: February 11, 2003
Sotheby’s Sues Michael Jackson
By Daniel Grant
NEW YORK CITY — After three months of quietly attempting to obtain payment for paintings bid on at auction but not paid for, Sotheby’s took the unprecedented action of publicly bringing a lawsuit against pop singer Michael Jackson on January 31, seeking $1.6 million in damages.
The two paintings, put up at auction on October 29, are both by French painter Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905) — “L’Amour A L’Epine,” which depicts a cupid taking a thorn out of his foot, and “Les Agneaux,” which shows a young woman with a boy in one arm and a sheep in the other. The paintings were bid on by telephone by Jackson’s agent Evvy Tavasci, executive administrator of the Los Angeles-based MJJ Productions, which handles the singer’s business affairs. She bid a combined $1.34 million for the pictures, which would have added to his extensive collection of artwork by Bouguereau and others.
As the paintings were never paid for, they remained at Sotheby’s. According to Jackson’s Beverly Hills publicist Marleah Leslie, Jackson had changed his mind about the paintings, because they “didn’t fit into his collection.”
During the three-month period after the auction, “there were at least 20 contacts with people at MJJ Productions” seeking payment, said Diana Phillips, a spokeswoman for Sotheby’s, as well as letters sent by the auction house’s general counsel Jonathan Olsoff to Jackson’s Los Angeles attorney, Brian Wolf.
Wolf was unavailable for comment, although Olsoff recalled Wolf’s claim that “someone who bids by phone in California can’t be sued in New York.” Additionally, Wolf is reported to have called Sotheby’s condition of sales terms “boilerplate” and “not enforceable.”
Under New York State law, title transfers from one party to another when the auction hammer is struck, regardless of whether the buyer pays for it. The auction house and original consignor may decide to put the object up for sale again; if the auction brings less for the piece than the delinquent buyer had bid, that buyer is still liable for the difference, plus any other fees and expenses incurred by the auctioneer. In 1996, Christie’s won a US District Court judgment from a collector, Joseph Bretal, who had failed to pay the $827,500 he had bid on a painting by Marc Chagall in a November 1995 sale at the auction. The following March, Christie’s made a private sale of the Chagall, but only for $500,000. Bretal was ordered to pay Christie’s the remaining $327,500, plus storage fees and late charges.
Michael Jackson had been a client of Sotheby’s in good standing for several years. “Before this, it had been a very good relationship,” Phillips said.
Sotheby’s and eBay
NEW YORK CITY and SAN JOSE, CALIF. – Sotheby’s and eBay will discontinue separate online auctions on Sothebys.com in early May. Instead, the companies will promote Sotheby’s live auctions through eBay’s Live Auctions technology and continue to build eBay’s arts and antiques categories. The Sothebys.com website will continue, but will focus on supporting Sotheby’s live auction business.
“As our online auctions offered by our dealer associates and Sotheby’s have not generated a profit for Sotheby’s, we are discontinuing separate online auctions,” said Bill Ruprecht, president and chief executive officer of Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc. “This action will regrettably lead to redundancies and a one-time restructuring charge in the first quarter of 2003 in the range of $2-3 million, but we anticipate that taking this step will enhance our profitability in 2003.
“The power of the online medium remains extraordinary, and we are delighted that our relationship with eBay, the world’s largest online marketplace, with over 40 million users, will continue,” said Ruprecht. “EBay’s Live Auctions technology is of growing interest to Sotheby’s existing clients because it allows them to follow Sotheby’s traditional auctions via the Internet and place bids online, in real time. We anticipate increased interest as clients become more familiar with its availability and ease of use.”
“The art, antiques and collectibles categories on eBay generated more than $1 billion in sales last year,” said Geoff Iddison, vice president and general manager of eBay Collectibles. “We are delighted that many of Sotheby’s dealer associates have contributed to this growing marketplace and we look forward to starting this new chapter in our relationship with Sotheby’s.”
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