When art collectors beef, there are no dis' records. Instead, there's just beef. Canadian art collector Jolles Shefner picked up one of Chaim Soutine's paintings from the Le boeuf (Piece of Beef) series for a mere $68,000 in 1981. She went home and hung it in her living room for the next 23 years. Then, she sold it for $1 million. Half a year after that, Soutine's beef wound up in Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art, which paid $2 million for it. Now, all the people in this chain of transactions have beef. When someone makes a great deal, it's usually at the expense of the person on the other side.
Shefner's heirs sued the middlemen from Jolles' sale and the National Art Gallery – essentially for fraud. Though the truth is still struggling to the surface, Soutine experts Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow appear to be involved in both the Shefner sale and the later sale to the National Gallery of Art. Shefner's estate seems to have accused Tuchman and Dunow of market manipulation, using their Soutine savvy to maximize their earnings.
In the lawsuit filings, Shefner's heirs claim that Tuchman and Dunow left "at least half a dozen" comparable Soutine sales from the list they provided to the Jolles to support the 2004 valuation and sale. And, these folks are saying the National Gallery of Art didn't investigate the source of the painting sufficiently. Of course, the family wants the painting back.
Tuchman and Dunow deny any impropriety and have indicated that Jolles' daughter received an independent valuation from an auction house that put the value of the painting at $1 million. But, the dynamic duo of Soutine wanted to restore order to the world. So, they agreed to pay $210,000 to the National Art Gallery in a settlement deal so complicated, you'd think it would be intended to end in the death of James Bond. They will authenticate the painting and maintain a provenance listing. The painting itself will go back to the Shefner family. The National Art Gallery will pick up $1,325,000 in cash from the Shefner heirs and a seven-year promisorry note for $650,000. All three payments come to $2,185,000. The museum walks away with a small profit – and it holds onto the painting until the promissory note is paid.