NEW YORK—When Andy Warhol’s Portrait of Linda Cossey with Camera, ca. 1981, went on the block at Christie’s evening sale of Postwar and contemporary art in London on Feb. 11, it carried an estimate of £450,000/550,000. It was sold for £881,250 ($1.4million), representing a healthy increase in value for a work that was appraised for only $30,000/40,000 two decades ago. However, after the sale another collector challenged the consignor’s ownership rights, prompting a legal battle, and the proceeds of the sale have yet to be paid out to anyone.
On Feb. 18, Stephen LaChapelle, the Torrance, Calif.–based collector who consigned the work to Christie’s, filed a claim for a declaratory judgment in Los Angeles Superior Court after Venice, Calif.–based collector Nancy Bishop “came out of the woodwork,” according to the complaint, and asserted that she is the rightful owner of the painting. The lawsuit seeks to establish LaChapelle’s ownership of the Warhol, according to his lawyer, David Steiner.
According to the suit, in about 1990 LaChapelle loaned Bishop “thousands of dollars” so that she could purchase the work from the Estate of Andy Warhol. Until some time in 1992, the claim says, Bishop stored the Warhol at Crozier Fine Arts in New York. “She apparently lacked the funds to pay the accumulated storage fees,” the suit alleges, “and Stephen LaChapelle loaned additional money to her so she could get the Warhol painting out of storage, which she did.” By that time, LaChapelle had loaned Bishop approximately $25,000 toward the purchase and storage of the painting, the complaint states.
In late 1992, Bishop had the painting shipped to LaChapelle in California “so he could retain it as security for the loans he had made to her,” the suit states. According to LaChapelle’s suit, “Bishop never repaid him any of the money she had borrowed … despite repeated requests between 1992 and 1996 or 1997.” The complaint also alleges that Bishop borrowed an additional $25,000 to $35,000 from LaChapelle between 1992 and 1996 or 1997, “all securitized by the Warhol painting. None of that money was ever repaid by Ms. Bishop.”
In 1996 or 1997, LaChapelle’s suit says, he informed Bishop that he planned to sell the Warhol to get compensation for the unpaid loans. According to the complaint, after that conversation LaChapelle “did not speak to or hear from Nancy Bishop again until February 2010.”
Last year, LaChapelle’s lawsuit states, he sent the painting to the New York branch of Haunch of Venison—by then a subsidiary of Christie’s—for restoration. (His complaint also says he had previously had the work insured and appraised.) Shortly thereafter, he consigned the work to Christie’s in London for inclusion in its Feb. 11 contemporary auction.
According to the complaint, three days before the sale, Bishop contacted Christie’s in writing, claiming that she was the rightful owner of the painting, and that LaChapelle had merely been storing it for her “for free and that she had been trying to locate him since 2001,” and that she was entitled to the proceeds from any sale.
LaChapelle seeks a declaration that he had ownership rights to the Warhol prior to the sale, and that he is therefore entitled to the full amount of the proceeds realized at auction, minus Christie’s commissions. According to his suit, the buyer has yet to pay for the disputed work, and the auction house will hold the proceeds from the sale until the parties “reach a written agreement resolving their dispute or a final order of a court with jurisdiction is entered.”
Neither LaChapelle nor Bishop was available for comment, and representatives of Christie’s declined to comment on the suit.