Sotheby’s Picasso Was Damaged by Gallery, Suit Says

``Femme assise dans un fauteuil''
``Femme assise dans un fauteuil'' (1941) by Pablo Picasso. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A 1941 Picasso to be offered at Sotheby’s tomorrow night with a $20 million to $30 million presale estimate was damaged while in the care of New York’s Acquavella Galleries, according to a lawsuit filed by the insurer of its owner, Ted Forstmann.

Forstmann, a financier who died last year, lent the portrait of Picasso’s lover, Dora Maar, to the Upper East Side gallery for a show in October 2008, according to the complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

“While in the care, custody, and control of Acquavella, the work was physically damaged,” American International Insurance Co. said in the October 2009 complaint.

The insurer paid Forstmann $7.5 million for damages to the painting, called “Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil,” according to the complaint. Sotheby’s “condition report” for the work, which the auction house makes available upon request, said it’s “in very good condition.”

Forstmann bought the work from Acquavella in 2001, according to Sotheby’s catalog.

“The surface is unvarnished and displays a rich and textured impasto,” Sotheby’s condition report said. “There is a two-inch repair below the figure’s neck where the canvas has been stitched. This restoration is of the highest standard and not visible to the naked eye.”

‘A Small Tear’

The damage isn’t disclosed in the catalog for the auction, which includes a version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

“There was a small tear that was repaired,” Terrence Mahon, who restored the Picasso for Forstmann, said in an interview. “The actual amount of paint loss on this picture was minimal.”

Mahon also restored Stephen Wynn’s Picasso, “Le Reve,” after the casino mogul accidentally poked a hole in it with his elbow in 2006.

Diana Phillips, a Sotheby’s spokeswoman, said in a statement: “The restoration was extremely successful and ‘of the highest standard,’ as is clear in the condition report, which is how Sotheby’s discloses such information.”

Dennis M. Wade, senior partner at Wade Clark Mulcahy who represents the insurer, declined to comment about the lawsuit. Michael Findlay, a director at Acquavella, declined to comment. James Bradford, with Mendes & Mount LLP, which represents the gallery, didn’t return a call.

The case is ready to proceed to trial, according to a court document filed by lawyers for American International Insurance dated Nov. 2 and entered into the case docket yesterday.

American International Insurance seeks $7.5 million, plus interest, attorney fees and other damages determined by the court.

The case is American International v. Acquavella Galleries, 115119/2009, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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