Art advisor wins US$10m commission in dispute over Gauguin painting

London’s High Court granted victory to a husband and wife art advisory team on Tuesday (16 January) following a high stakes legal battle over a US$10 million (£7 million) commission.

Auctioneer and art advisor, Simon de Pury, and wife Michaela claimed the commission for negotiating the sale of Paul Gauguin’s 1892 painting ‘Nafea faa ipoipo’ (‘When Will You Marry’) in 2015. Owned by Ruedi Staechelin, a former executive at Sotheby’s and de Pury’s childhood friend, the work depicts two Tahitian women in a mountainous landscape.

Negotiations are understood to have taken place between 2012 and 2014 between De Pury (on behalf of Staechelin) and Guy Bennett, former Christie’s executive and now director of collections and acquisitions for Qatar’s state museums (on behalf of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani). The sale was completed for US$210 million (£151 million) but Staechelin subsequently refused to pay the commission due to de Pury under a “gentleman’s agreement” for helping to negotiate the sale. This led de Pury to bring Court proceedings for the first time in his 45 year art market career.

The Court dismissed Staechelin’s assertion that de Pury had breached his fiduciary duty while negotiating the sale and ordered Staechelin to pay de Pury US$10 million (plus costs and interest). The full judgment is available here.

De Pury celebrated his victory on Instagram with a photo of himself in front of the contested artwork. “I am delighted with the outcome of this case and the face that justice has prevailed”, de Pury captioned the picture.

The case brought to light details of the private sale. At the time of sale in 2014, ‘Nafea faa ipoipo’ was thought to have changed hands for US$300 million, the highest price ever paid for a work of art. It later emerged the price tag was in fact US$90million less than that. Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, sold at Christie’s for US$450.3 million in November 2017 has since broken the world record for the most expensive painting ever sold.

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