Published: February 27, 2001
Trade News from around the World
A Manhattan judge gave tentative approval on February 22 to a $537 million settlement of civil lawsuits brought by customers of Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses after price fixing allegations became public, writes Larry Neumeister of the Associated Press. US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan asked for some changes before he grants final approval but gave lawyers only a week to resolve the concerns, an indication that he believed they were minor. “In all the circumstances, the aggregate amount of this settlement is well within the range of fairness,” Kaplan wrote in a 45-page analysis of the deal for damages that will be shared equally by each auction house. He concluded that plaintiffs at a trial “would be very likely” to prove that the auction houses conspired to rip off customers selling rdf_Descriptions at auctions. Kaplan said there had been no similar concession about commission prices and fees for buyers at auctions, a fact that might have limited the amount of damages that could be gained if the case went to trial. The judge said it was possible that a trial might result in as much as $858 million in damages, but the most the plaintiffs could count on would be in a range of $113 million to $255 million.
Jason Keyser of the Associated Press writes that “St Peter in Prison,” Rembrandt’s masterpiece showing the Apostle Peter kneeling and praying in a dark Jerusalem prison cell after his capture by Romans, was unveiled February 22 at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The work is the first Rembrandt painting to go on display in Israel and is the centerpiece of the museum’s growing collection of European art. Michael and Judy Steinhardt of New York donated the oil painting that had been hanging on long-term loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “Let us hope that Rembrandt’s golden shaft of light, which shines down on St. Peter’s prison cell in this painting, will illuminate Jerusalem, too, and bring it peace,” said Jill Indyk, wife of US Ambassador Martin Indyk.
It has been an active week for the Smithsonian. A February 23 report in The New York Times states that the most famous and recognizable portrait of George Washington, one rendered by Gilbert Stuart in 1796 and known as the “Lansdowne” portriat, has been offered for sale to the institution for $20 million. Marc Pachter, the director of Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, told the Times that he was confident that a donor would be found. The painting has been on loan to the gallery since 1968 by anonymous owners. It will be sold by Sotheby’s if the price cannot be met by the institution.
The Principal Financial Group, says AP, has become a major patron of the arts with a $3 million sponsorship of the Smithsonian’s “Treasures To Go” tour. The Des Moines, Iowa-based insurance and financial services company, making its first foray into national corporate sponsorship, is providing publicity for the 60-city tour and will help some local museums pay the cost to host an exhibit. The Smithsonian’s 500-piece American art collection is on a three-year tour while its home in Washington, D.C., is being renovated. “Treasures To Go” was launched in January 2000 and will end in early 2003.
Finally, the Smithsonian has named The Atlanta International Museum of Art and Design, a tiny museum based in the lobby of an office tower in Atlanta, as an affiliate. The AIMAD, which the Associated Press reports operates three cubbyhole galleries, will get to borrow rdf_Descriptions long-term from several of the Smithsonian’s 16 museums and galleries, including such popular tourist magnets as the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. The Atlanta museum was founded in 1989 by two local artists. The first scheduled Smithsonian exhibit is for June, when it expects to showcase some six-foot-tall terra cotta temple figures from southern India.
Balthus, 92, well-known Twentieth Century realist painter famous for his erotic – some have said pornographic – portrayal of adolescent beauties, died February 18 in Switzerland, according to AP. Balthus also won acclaim for his dreamlike Parisian street scenes and conventional landscapes which were heavily influenced by Swiss Alpine scenery, as in his 1937 painting “The Mountain.”
Robert Becker of the Chicago Tribune writes that the legal fray surrounding the fate of the Terra Museum of American Art intensified February 23 when the son of museum founder Daniel Terra launched his own court crusade aimed at short-circuiting any efforts to relocate the museum outside of Chicagoland. Attorneys for James Terra filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against the Terra Foundation for the Arts. It seeks to amend the museum’s original articles of incorporation to explicitly state that the museum “should always have a presence in the Chicagoland area.”
Reuters reports that San Jose-based eBay Inc has agreed to pay up to $112 million to acquire privately held French online auctioneer iBazar S.A., strengthening the US Internet auction site’s position in Europe. The company told Reuters February 21 the acquisition was expected to have a nominal impact on its 2001 revenues. Paris-based iBazar, launched in France in 1998, now has online marketplaces in eight countries, including Belgium, Brazil, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. iBazar has a total of 2.4 million registered users. It reported more than 3.1 million listings and gross merchandise sales (GMS) of more than $95 million during the fourth quarter of 2000.
According to John McElhenny of the Associated Press, a 220-year-old letter signed by George Washington and worth an estimated $15/20,000 is back in Massachusetts’ hands, more than 50 years after it was believed stolen from state archives. The letter to a Massachusetts general requests shipments of rum, uniforms and other supplies. The missive was recovered when a Cincinnati man – whose family had the letter hanging on a wall in their home for decades – tried to sell it at auction, Secretary of State William Galvin said; its recovery, which was made two weeks ago, was announced on February 22 – Washington’s birthday. Dated June 8, 1781, when Washington was commander of the Continental Army, the letter urges General William Heath to make sure the soldiers are adequately outfitted with salt-preserved food, coats, hats, and one other important provision. In Revolutionary War times, rum was commonly used by doctors as a painkiller. The letter is believed to have been stolen by an archives employee some time between 1938 and 1946. Another 50 or so are still missing. Massachusetts investigators said a man who originally bought the document from a rare book and manuscript dealer in Cincinnati had no way of knowing it was stolen. A few years ago, another Washington-signed letter that had been taken from Massachusetts was returned, after hanging for years over actor Gary Cooper’s fireplace.
AskART.com announced February 26 that it is helping the FBI trace the ownership history of the Andrew Wyeth watercolor entitled “The Studio.” The firm’s president, George R. Collins, stated “Our site gives the FBI a platform on which to display the image. We hope to help with the discovery of its unrecorded provenance.” The watercolor, taken in 1967 from the Sears Vincent Price Art Gallery in Chicago, was presented for sale to Christie’s New York last year but was identified as a stolen work. The FBI took the painting to its vault in Chicago and plans to return it to Sears. The investigation of the painting’s 33-year hiatus will continue.
Installation of the wing-like sunscreen known as a brise soleil as part of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s $100 million expansion project might not take place before summer 2002, reports AP. Museum officials had hoped the brise soleil would be ready in time for the museum’s gala inauguration in October for the addition designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. They acknowledged February 21 it might take more than a year to install the new building’s centerpiece structure.
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