An announced plan by the legendary art dealing family Wildenstein to sell its palatial headquarters on the Upper East Side of Manhattan has been cancelled, a spokeswoman for the family-owned art gallery said today.
David Wildenstein, vice president of Wildenstein & Company, told ARTnews in an interview in February that an agreement had been reached to sell to the government of Qatar the limestone-clad townhouse that Wildenstein built for itself on East 64th Street in 1932.
The gallery and its 29-member staff vacated the premises earlier this summer in anticipation of the sale’s closing. But the sale is now off. “I can confirm that the Qatar deal is dead and that the Wildensteins are reviewing their longer-term options as they continue to run the business without interruption,” said Alice McGillion, executive vice president of Rubenstein Associates, which handles public relations for the gallery.
Wildenstein is renowned for its holdings of Impressionist and Old Masters paintings, and its list of clients has included J.P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, several Rockefellers, as well as major museums around the globe. David Wildenstein said in February that the gallery had accepted an offer from Qatar, which was planning to install its consulate in the stately building.
Designed by Gilded Age architect Horace Trumbauer, the sumptuous building has five floors, all with double-height ceilings, and, on the third floor, a paneled salon that came from the Paris townhouse of Talleyrand, Napoleon’s foreign minister.
In early spring, both Qatari officials and Wildenstein had said they were still negotiating the final terms of the sale in anticipation of its closing. Qatari officials could not be reached for comment on their cancelation of the deal. The Wall Street Journal and other publications had placed the price tag for the sale as high as $90 million.
Wildenstein’s move out of the historic headquarters it had occupied for over 80 years and the subsequent collapse of that sale follows a series of scandals that have hit the Wildenstein family, which opened its first gallery in Paris in 1875. These include the publication in 1997 of Hector Feliciano’s book The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art in which he wrote that David’s great-grandfather, Georges Wildenstein, worked secretly with an influential art dealer during World War II to buy and sell art plundered from Jews.
In 2011, French police raided the nonprofit Wildenstein Institute in Paris as part of a separate investigation into charges by the late Sylvia Roth Wildenstein, stepmother of Guy and his late brother, Alec, that the family had evaded inheritance taxes.
Spokeswoman McGillion would not say where in New York the gallery was now operating from nor whether it might move back into its building. Neither David Wildenstein nor his father, Guy who is president of Wildenstein & Company, would return calls requesting comment.