$300 Million for Gauguin

BASEL --Gauguin’s masterpiece painting,'Nafea Faa Ipoipo' (When Will You Marry?), has been sold.

Transacted away from the public din of an auction gavel, the privately negotiated price hovers around $300 million which seems plausible and not too unreasonable.

The buyer is a Qatari foundation. This now constitutes the largest price ever paid for a single work of art.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are stunned by this astronomical sum.

There is a lot more to learn from the sale, though. Here we see the very smart use of museums as an art bank for a family’s prime asset. Last week, Rudolf Staechelin, the painting's owner, divulged some details about his decision making process:

The works were amassed by his grandfather, a Swiss merchant also named Rudolf Staechelin, who befriended artists and made most of his purchases during and after World War I.

Later, the elder Mr. Staechelin advised the Basel Kunstmuseum, which accepted the "loan" of his collection after his death in 1946. The "loan" would be on an indefinite basis, with the museum paying all the insurance and security costs of protecting the valuable painting.

The grandson said that the works had never been hung in his family’s home because they were too precious and that he saw them in a museum along with everyone else.

He has decided to sell, he said, because it is the time in his life to diversify his assets. “In a way it’s sad,” he said, “but on the other hand, it’s a fact of life. Private collections are like private persons. They don’t live forever.”

Mr. Staechelin said that he had sought a new contract after the museum announced plans to shut down. When canton officials failed to budge on a new contract, he said, he canceled the existing one because of a provision that requires that the artworks be on public display.

“The real question is why only now?” Mr. Staechelin said of the Gauguin sale. “It’s mainly because we got a good offer. The market is very high and who knows what it will be in 10 years. I always tried to keep as much together as I could.”

He added, “Over 90 percent of our assets are paintings hanging for free in the museum.”

“For me they are family history and art,” he said of the artworks. “But they are also security and investments.”

The Basel Museum administration -- which has displayed the work front-and-center for decades -- is understandably saddened by the transaction. On the other hand, the Sheikha of Qatar, who administers the nation's (her family's) art purse of $1 billion per annum, is happy.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video offers a closeup look at the Gauguin masterpiece. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCO2oy06eZ4&sns=em