Not so Fast, Gallery Tells Christie’s

     MANHATTAN (CN) – The gallery that represents landscape artist Peter Doig has sued a collector and Christie’s, claiming Doig sold the man an oil painting for $162,000, a “fraction” of its market value, on the express condition that he eventually give it to a museum. Now, the gallery says, the collector and Christie’s are trying to cash in.

     The Michael Werner Gallery, which represents Doig, says it allowed James H. Rich to buy Doig’s 2004 painting “Red Boat (Imaginary Boys)” for $162,000, and that the July 2004 invoice stipulated that the “artwork, while purchased privately, is done so with the explicit agreement that the work is to be given as an eventual gift to the Carnegie Museum of Art” in Pittsburgh.
     Doig, born in Scotland, is a highly regarded artist who has produced works in a variety of styles. One of his landscapes sold for $11.3 million at Sotheby’s in 2007.
     The Werner Gallery claims that Rich has arranged for “Red Boat (Imaginary Boys)” to be auctioned at Christie’s, whose website lists the painting as “a captivating and exquisitely rendered painting depicting the heady heat and luscious verdure of the fertile tropics” that “embodies the essence of the Caribbean.”
     Doig painted it when he was living in Trinidad, Christie’s says.
     It is slated to be sold at Christie’s “Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction” on June 28.
     The Werner Gallery says Doig wants it to go to the public, not to a private collector.
     “This express requirement was important to Mr. Doig because he wanted to assure that the painting would not remain in the hands of a private collector but would ultimately be held by a museum and made available to the viewing public,” according to the complaint in New York County Court.
     “Neither the Gallery nor Mr. Doig would have agreed to sell the painting to Rich – and certainly would not have sold the painting at the bargain price of $162,000 – absent this express provision. …
     “This lawsuit is not about money. Neither the Gallery nor Mr. Doig is seeking to recover a single dime from Mr. Rich or Christie’s. Rather, as a fiduciary to Mr. Doig and in its own right, the Gallery is seeking to enforce the express provisions in the contract requiring Mr. Rich to gift the painting to the Carnegie Museum. No money damages could possibly provide an adequate remedy for Mr. Rich’s breach of the contract given that the painting is unique and irreplaceable and belongs in the public domain.”
     The Werner Gallery says it found out about the auction from an email it received from Christie’s in May. The gallery says it immediately asked, though its attorneys, that Rich and Christie’s withdraw the painting from the auction, but they refused.
     The gallery seeks an injunction barring Christie’s from selling the painting, and ordering it to donate the work to the Carnegie Museum.
It is represented by Judd B. Grossman with the Dontzin Law Firm.

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