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  • Jan 09, 2019

South Korean Gallery Sues Christie's For Selling Francis Bacon Painting In Bad Faith

One and J. Gallery has filed a lawsuit in New York against Christie’s for selling a Francis Bacon painting for a very low price. Image via Christie’s Education, New York.

On January 2, Seoul-based One and J. Gallery filed a case against Christie’s at the Supreme Court of the State of New York for allegedly selling a Francis Bacon painting for an extremely low purchase price in a private sweetheart deal. The co-buyers, New York-based gallery Van de Weghe and collector David Rogath, who are two of Christie’s high-profile clients, were also served with a summons notice in separate claims filed by the gallery two days later, after the court ordered the auction house to disclose the buyer’s identity.

According to One and J.’s petition, the Bacon painting, the title of which has not been made public, was brought to Christie’s for appraisal in October 2017. Christie’s agreed to become the gallery’s exclusive agent in arranging a private sale of the painting for no less than a conservative valuation of USD 10 million. Several years prior, Christie's had estimated that they could sell the work for more than USD 15 million. The auction house then agreed to make a loan of approximately USD 4.9 million to the gallery with the painting serving as collateral. The gallery later tried to consign an agreed Andy Warhol painting to Christie’s for an auction, with the proceeds from the transaction to be used to repay the loan. However, Christie’s pulled the lot on the eve of the sale, citing a lack of public interest. In September 2018, Christie’s wrote to One and J. stating that the gallery had defaulted on the loan and contended that they were entitled to sell the Bacon painting “under any terms, at any time, as we see fit.” One and J. claims that they offered to pay USD 6.8 million for the return of the Bacon work, but Christie’s deemed the bid too low. 

The gallery asserts that Christie’s did not sell the painting in a “fair dealing” and had “breached the implied duty of good faith.” Their petition states: “Especially given Christie’s role under the Private Sale Agreement to act as the Gallery’s exclusive agent with regard to the Painting until 2019 [. . .] it was certainly reasonable for the gallery to expect that Christie’s would not actively negotiate against the Gallery to help the Unknown Buyer reap a significant windfall on the painting at the gallery’s expense.”

On January 7, Christie’s spokesperson Lara Messerlian countered: “Christie’s sale of the collateralized painting (Bacon) at fair market value was an appropriate remedy after years of non-payment, defaults, and months-late payments on interest-bearing advance agreements.”

A day later, a judge granted a standstill agreement among the three parties, stipulating that nothing will happen to the painting until January 23, according to Artnet News.

Julee WJ Chung is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.

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