Billionaire Koch Consigns Picasso

NEW YORK CITY -- Billionaire energy businessman William Koch, whose older brothers finance an array of conservative political causes, might get as much as $110 million for his bosomy nude by Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet’s water lilies, about 11 times what he paid for the two works.

The paintings will be offered during Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art evening sale on Nov. 5 in New York.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network anticipate a blue-chip auction season this autumn.

The paintings are the latest trophy consignments for next month’s semi-annual, bellwether sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art in New York. These sales will test the art market’s resilience amid concern of global economic turmoil.

Sotheby’s also won the $500 million estate of its former chairman A. Alfred Taubman. Christie’s has its own trophy nude, by Amedeo Modigliani, estimated at more than $100 million.

Koch, 75, whose net worth is estimated at $3.5 billion by Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is founder and chief executive officer of Oxbow, a closely held commodities marketing and mining business based in Palm Beach, Florida. His older brothers, David and Edward donate hundreds of millions annually to an array of conservative Republican Super-Pac foundations.

Picasso’s “La Gommeuse” was painted in 1901, at the start of the artist’s Blue Period. He was 19 years old and arrived in Paris a year earlier. The oil-on-canvas depicts a nude cabaret dancer with a pale face, red lips and black curls. The painting, evocative of Paul Gauguin, is estimated at more than $60 million.

‘Own Spin’

“He is trying out different models, styles and influences,” Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby’s worldwide Impressionist and modern art department, said in an interview. “But he always puts his own spin on it.”

In this case, Picasso made a second painting on the back of the canvas. Concealed for about 100 years underneath the lining, it was discovered after a conservation project in 2000.

The second image is a caricature of Picasso’s friend and fellow Spaniard Pere Manach, who helped organize the artist’s first exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery earlier in 1901.

After the reverse image was discovered, Koch had a section of a wall between two rooms in his Palm Beach home cut away so that both sides could be seen, Sotheby’s said.

Koch bought the Picasso in 1984 for 1.4 million pounds, equivalent to about $1.7 million at the time, at Sotheby’s in London. The work is returning to the auction house for the fourth time in November, having been first sold there for $3,600 in 1949 when it was known as Parke-Bernet Galleries.

The second Koch painting, Monet’s 1908 “Nympheas” depicts the artist’s famous pond studded with water lilies in Giverny, France. The work is estimated at $30 million to $50 million. Koch bought it for $8.4 million at Sotheby’s in New York in 2000.

Monet Mania

Monet has become something of a house artist for Sotheby’s, which sold 15 works by the Impressionist French painter so far this year, tallying $209 million. The most expensive was another “Nympheas,” painted in 1905, which fetched $54 million in May.

“Monet is as desirable in China, Singapore, Taiwan as he is in Russia, Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S.," Shaw said. “He is an accessible, modern brand."
Neither of the two paintings carries a guarantee, or undisclosed price that auction houses often offer consignors regardless of whether the works sell or don’t.