Pearlstein McCullough & Lederman is pleased to announce that the New York Surrogate’s Court has granted our motion and dismissed a title claim to Renoir’s La Balayeuse against our clients MGM Resorts, Mirage Resorts and Bellagio.
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art purchased Renoir’s La Balayeuse from Sotheby’s in 1999 and consigned it for sale to Christie’s in May 2016. Days before Christie’s auction, Mark Salz contacted Christie’s to claim title to La Balayeuse. Mark alleged that his father, Sam Salz, had owned La Balayeuse and that Janet Salz (Sam’s second wife and Mark’s step-mother) had fraudulently withheld La Balayeuse and other unspecified paintings from her accounting of Sam’s Estate.
Bellagio engaged us on an emergency basis and, days after the auction, Mark’s lawyer contacted us to demand a settlement payment, which we refused. However, Christie’s froze the sale proceeds of $900,000 until we negotiated a stipulation to release the funds.
Mark then commenced a petition for turnover of the sale proceeds against Bellagio and a petition for discovery of the other unspecified paintings against Janet’s trust, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Day & Meyer. Bellagio and the other respondents moved to dismiss.
The Court granted our motion because Mark failed to show that Sam’s estate owned La Balayeuse and because the statutes of limitations barred his claim. The Court also granted the motions to dismiss submitted by the other respondents.
The case holds two important lessons for auction consignors. First, the provenance of even well-known paintings can be challenged. Second, consignors should negotiate their consignment agreements, which are written to protect the auction house if a claim is made to the property, no matter how thinly supported.