Modern Master Paintings Cause Legal Pile-Up in NY

At a June 2015 auction, Christie’s fetched 12.1 million GBP for this 1967 oil painting by Francis Bacon, “Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer.” (Christie’s via CNS)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Auctioned two years ago for $16 million, British painter Francis Bacon’s “Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer” lies at the heart of a legal battle in Manhattan.

Christie’s described the painting as one of only 10 diptychs that the Dublin-born Bacon painted before he died at 82 in 1992.

The auction house said the piece “commemorates two of the artist’s most profound relationships: with his lover and muse, George Dyer, and his lifelong friend and confidante, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne.”

At the center of the new lawsuit is a wealthy Chinese businessman who bought two famous artists’ paintings he could not afford.

Zhang Chang bid more than 12.1 million British pounds for Bacon’s work at the June 30, 2015, auction in London.

Painted in 1963, “Düsenjäger,” or “Jet Fighter,” sold at Phillips’ auction house in New York for $24 million. (Phillips via CNS)

Then on Nov. 16, 2016, Zhang agreed to shell out another $24 million for German artist Gerhard Richter’s “Düsenjäger” (“Jet Fighter”) at Phillips’ auction house in New York.

Both purchases inspired lawsuits in New York County Supreme Court.

On June 9 this year, Judge Peter Sherwood ordered that Phillips Auctioneers could attach the Bacon painting — now in the possession of New York’s storied Gagosian Gallery — to compensate it for Zhang’s nonpayment for the Richter work.

This order inspired another lawsuit by Lin San, another Chinese citizen, who claims he loaned Zhang the money for the Bacon art.

“Mr. Zhang paid Christie’s for the purchase over time, using funds loaned by Mr. Lin for this purpose in accordance with a loan agreement between them executed in June 2015,” the 9-page complaint states. “Those loans from Mr. Lin first began in June 2015, and continued through 2017.”

Lin says Zhang agreed to transfer the painting to him because he was not able to repay the loans.

Lin on Thursday filed a petition to intervene in Phillips Auctioneers v. Chang, saying the painting is rightfully his.

“At the time of this supplemental agreement in February 2017, Mr. Lin was unaware of any dispute between Mr. Zhang and Phillips, or that Mr. Zhang allegedly owed Phillips any money,” his complaint states.

Christie’s and Gagosian are not named in the petition, which lists Phillips as the sole respondent. Phillips declined to comment.

Lin is represented by New York-based attorney Gerald Novack.

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