NEW YORK—On March 20, art collector George A. Weiss, as managing member of the family trust Weiss Family Art (Bacon) LLC, filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against auction house Christie’s in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The suit stems from an auction guarantee on a Francis Bacon self-portrait that Christie’s extended and later withdrew.
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According to the complaint, last July Christie’s, in competition with Sotheby’s for the consignment, offered Weiss a $40 million guarantee on Bacon’s Study for Self Portrait, 1964. In September, the complaint alleges, the auction house backed out of the guarantee agreement, citing the changed conditions in the global economy. At Christie’s Nov. 12 auction of Postwar and contemporary art, the work failed to sell (ANL, 11/25/08). Bidding opened at $27.5 million, but the artwork did not receive a single bid. The suit seeks $40 million—the amount of the guarantee—plus damages.
On Sept. 24, according to the suit, the auction house contacted Weiss’s representative to state that it would no longer honor the price guarantee. By the time Christie’s rescinded the guarantee, the complaint says, it had already taken possession of the painting. Weiss contends in the lawsuit that his lawyer wrote to Christie’s, demanding that the auctioneer honor the guarantee, but no action was taken by the auction house to abide by the agreement. Weiss, a money manager in Hartford, Conn., is the founder of Say Yes to Education, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to increase high school and college graduation rates for inner-city youth in the U.S.
Weiss was unavailable for comment. Christie’s declined requests for comment, instead releasing a statement, which reads in part: “Christie’s has much respect for Mr. Weiss as a collector, philanthropist and businessman. Unfortunately, we disagree with his position in this litigation.”
Weiss acquired the Bacon self-portrait privately in the 1990s, reportedly for less than $3 million. The work, which was to have been the highlight of Christie’s Nov. 12 contemporary evening sale, bore an estimate of $40 million/60 million. At that auction, almost one-third of the lots did not find buyers, and sales totaled $113.6 million, well short of the $227 million/321 million estimate.