Russian Billionaire Takes 74% Loss on $85 Million Gauguin

  • Russia’s Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the piece as an investment
  • Christie’s auctioned the work at its evening sale in London

Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev paid 54 million euros (then $85 million) for a landscape by Paul Gauguin in a private transaction in June 2008. On Tuesday, he took a 74 percent loss on his investment.

Gauguin’s 1892 landscape “Te Fare (La Maison)" fetched 20.3 million pounds ($25 million), including commission, at Tuesday evening’s sale of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s in London. Rybolovlev will net about $22 million based on the hammer price. The auction house had estimated the value at $15 million to $22.4 million. The buyer was a client of Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia.

Te Fare by Paul Gauguin

Source: Christie’s

The Gauguin was one of four Rybolovlev pieces offered for sale on Tuesday. Another work, a Mark Rothko painting, will be auctioned March 7.

Rybolovlev -- with a fortune of about $9.8 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index -- invested about $2 billion in 38 works, from Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso. They were procured privately by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, known for creating a network of tax-free art storage warehouses in Singapore and Luxembourg.

Two years ago, Rybolovlev sued Bouvier, alleging he was overcharged by as much as $1 billion, Bloomberg reported. Since then the Russian fertilizer magnate has been unloading works he acquired, some at record prices. He has already sold three for a loss totaling an estimated $100 million. The five works at Christie’s, all estimated below their purchase prices, were expected to deepen the loss.  

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“As Singapore’s highest court noted, the buyers in this case ‘obtained the masterpieces which were precisely what they wanted, and these were all transacted at prices they agreed to pay,”’ Ron Soffer, Bouvier’s lawyer, said in an interview last week, citing a ruling in a related civil case.  

The art industry is closely watching the London auctions running this week and next as the year’s first test of the global market following a significant contraction in 2016. Christie’s sales fell 17 percent to $4 billion pounds ($5.4 billion) last year, while Sotheby’s reported a 27 percent decline to $4.9 billion. Both houses saw steep declines in their two biggest categories: Impressionist and modern art, and postwar and contemporary art.

A life-size bronze of a kissing couple by Auguste Rodin, “Le baiser, grand modele,” cast in 2010, found no takers. Christie’s had estimated it at $4.9 million to $7.5 million. Rybolovlev purchased the work for 7.5 million euros (then $10.4 million) in 2011.

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Picasso’s 1970 “Joueur de flute et femme nue" sold for $5.8 million with commission, falling short of the low estimate of $8.1 million. Rybolovlev purchased it for 25 million euros (then $35 million) in 2010.

Rene Magritte’s 1938 “Le domaine d’Arnheim” fetched $12.7 million, with fees, surpassing the high estimate of $10.6 million. Rybolovlev paid $43.5 million for it.

Christie’s is targeting as much as 287.2 million pounds in its series of 20th century art that runs through March 10.

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— With assistance by Hugo Miller

(Updates with Mark Rothko painting in third paragraph.)
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