Two art world giants at loggerheads over Picasso sculpture

Two prominent members of the art world are locking heads over one of Picasso’s famous statues.

The Statue “Bust of a Woman (Marie-Therese),” dated 1931, is valued at over $100 million, and is on display at the moment at the MoMa in New York as part of one of the largest exhibitions of Picasso’s work for 50 years.

Art dealer, Larry Gagosian, who has worked with the Picasso family for years and is the owner of The Gagosian Gallery chain, has gone to a court in Manhattan in an effort to reject the opposing side’s claim to the work.

At the helm of the opposing side is former Christie’s expert, Guy Bennet, who is working under the trading firm Pelham (that he founded and heads) that is also claiming rights to the work on behalf of the Qatari Royal Family it was representing. (According to The Telegraph those royals were Sheikh Jassim bin Abdulaziz al-Thani, who’s wife is Sheikha al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. She chairs the Qatar Museums Authority, and is one of the biggest art buyers in the world.)

How might two men get confused over their ownership of such an expensive statue one might ask? The answer lies with Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the daughter of the muse of the statue, Marie-Therese, and the artist, Picasso. Gagosian, who has ties with the Picasso family, claims he agreed to purchase the sculpture in May 2015 from Widmaier-Picasso for $105.8 million; so far he has paid $79.7 million (75% of the purchase value) and said he had finalized a sales agreement with a New York buyer, who is expecting to take possession once the exhibition closes on February 7th.

However, Gagosian states that he received a letter in October 2015, from the company Pelham, claiming ownership and threatening to have the sculpture seized in New York. Apparently contending their rights to the piece as they too had agreed to purchase the work from Widmaier-Picasso in Novemeber 2014. However, they had agreed to purchase it for €38 million ($41.3 milion), which as Gagosian says “Buying at this price would have given Pelham an instant $60 million-plus windfall at Maya’s expense.”

Gagosian is claiming that Picasso’s daughter renounced the Pelham sale after the first €6 million payment, and has since returned the money; highlighting a clause in the contract stipulated that the sale would only be considered complete once the entire price had been paid.

Pelham are yet to comment, but an agent for the Qatari Royals has said this is an attempt by the Gagosian gallery “to thwart our rights”. Gagosian said the dispute was with Pelham rather than the Qatari Royals, telling the New York Times: “We have the highest respect for Sheikh al-Thani, a long time friend of the gallery, and regret that he has been unfairly drawn into this matter.”