Pollock’s ‘Elegant Lady’ for Sale as EON Raids Art Hoard

Times have gotten so tough for Germany’s power companies that EON SE is selling its most valuable art work.

Jackson Pollock’s Number 5 (Elegant Lady), painted in 1951, will be sold by Christie’s International Plc in New York on May 13. The painting was bought by EON’s predecessor company Veba AG for about 1 million Deutsche marks ($500,000) in 1980. It’s expected to fetch $15 million to $20 million.

The sale will support EON’s art and culture spending for the next few years, said Dorothee Graefin von Posadowsky-Wehner, who heads the philanthropic program and oversees more than 1,800 works, one of Germany’s most important corporate collections.

“My heart is bleeding” to see the painting leave, said Posadowsky-Wehner.

EON is cutting costs after Germany’s shift to renewable power and slumping power prices cut profits from generating electricity at conventional plants. The biggest German utility by market value, Dusseldorf-based cut its workforce by more than a quarter to 62,000 in the past three years.

It was Ulrich Hartmann, head of Veba’s corporate board office and right-hand man of then-Chief Executive Officer Rudolf von Bennigsen-Foerder, who pushed for the purchase from art dealer Alfred Schmela. The acquisition was the foundation for EON’s collection, Posadowsky-Wehner said.

New York Gallery

After becoming CEO, Hartmann later shook up the European energy market when he engineered the merger with Munich-based Viag AG that turned EON into Germany’s largest utility in 2000.

Schmela bought the painting from the Knoedler Gallery in New York in the 1970s. Pollock has swapped it in 1954 with New York gallery owner Martha Jackson for the convertible in which he had a fatal accident two years later.

Since 2001 the painting had hung in Dusseldorf’s Museum Kunstpalast next to EON’s headquarters, where the utility has spend more than 30 million euros ($41 million) since 1998. Before its New York sale in May, the painting will be shown in Hong Kong and London.

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