In March 2018 Christie’s agreed to sell the Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) painting known as Le Marin (The Sailor) on behalf of Sierra Fine Art LLC, Las Vegas, Nevada. Christie’s acquired the painting and planned to sell it at a May 15 auction at its New York City gallery that year.
Enter T. F. Nugent, Inc., a New York City family-owned paint and wall covering company, which Christie’s hired to paint a portion of its New York City auction gallery before the sale of Le Marin. On May 11 one of Nugent’s employees entered the room where Le Marin had been leaned against a wall before being hung. The worker left one of his paint roller extension rods leaning against another wall and left the room. Apparently the unsecured extension rod rolled off the wall on which it was resting. The tip of the handle hit the Picasso painting in the lower left quadrant and tore an approximately 4½" x 1½" gash in the canvas.
That little “oops” turned out to be worth a sizable chunk of change. Christie’s subsequently paid $487,625 to have the painting restored. At the time of the planned auction, the painting was estimated to be worth $70,000,000. But following the restoration, Sierra hired two independent art evaluators, who determined that the painting in its original condition was worth $100,000,000 and that following the restoration, the painting had lost 20% of its fair market value, or $20,000,000. Christie’s eventually negotiated a settlement with Sierra in the amount of $18,737,625, which was covered by its insurer, the Steadfast Insurance Company, which is now suing the painters to recover that amount, plus costs and fees.
It’s not the first time the Las Vegas firm has been associated with a damaged Picasso. In 2006 former casino and resort mogul Steve Wynn, founder of Sierra Fine Art, accidentally put his elbow through Picasso’s celebrated 1932 work Le Rêve (The Dream). After restoration, that painting still brought a reported $155,000,000 in a subsequent sale.
Originally published in the July 2020 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2020 Maine Antique Digest