Greek Heiress Sues for Family Art

A Greek heiress is fighting a legal battle in Switzerland to find out what has become of a collection of Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Degas art that she says should be part of her inheritance.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social network are watching this art inheritance drama unfold in the courts.

Basil Goulandris, was a billionaire shipping magnate who spent the winter months in the Alpine resort of Gstaad with his wife Elise. The Greek couple amassed a billion-dollar collection that they displayed in their chalet.

Basil Goulandris died in 1994; his wife Elise in 2000.

Aspasia Zaimis, photographed here in the late 1980s in front of a family-owned Van Gogh, is their niece and a legatee in Elise Goulandris’s will.

Zaimis contends that one- sixth of the collection should be hers after her aunt’s death, and is suing the estate.

Falsified Will

Her quest has uncovered a paper trail leading from the Aegean island of Andros to Swiss depots; from a Panama trading company to a Liechtenstein foundation.

The case now winding through a Lausanne court is examining whether a sale contract dated 1985 for 83 masterpieces -- at a price far below their value -- is genuine.

Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the Elise Goulandris Foundation -- Elise’s main heir -- and the executor of her will, the art historian and curator Kyriakos Koutsomallis, on suspicion of falsifying titles of ownership, passing on false documents and duplicity in executing the will.

The Elise Goulandris Foundation, the chief beneficiary of her will, plans to finance the construction of a contemporary art museum in Athens.

When Elise Goulandris left Gstaad for the summer, the paintings were packed up and stored in a depot. Zaimis said she hasn’t seen them since her death in 2000.

A beauty who had counted the former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing among her friends, Elise died while summering on the Aegean in her yacht. She had written her will in Greek and in code, according to the two people.

The critical sentence in Elise’s will is that all her personal property that is not antique and fit for a museum should go to her nieces and nephews, said the two people, who have seen the will.

Zaimis maintains the paintings aren’t antiques and should be part of her inheritance.

Moreover, there is a disputed contract dated 1985 showing that Basil Goulandris sold 83 masterpieces to a Panamanian company called Wilton Trading SA for $31.7 million, the people said.

The company belonged to Goulandris’s sister-in- law Maria Goulandris, according to testimony given by her son Peter John Goulandris. Maria Goulandris died in 2005.

Phoney Paper

Yet a report commissioned by the Lausanne prosecutor found that the contract was printed on a type of paper that didn’t exist before 1988, according to the two people, who have seen the report.

Zaimis also said she doubts that Basil Goulandris, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, would have been capable of signing the contract after 1988.

Among the artworks in the list of 83 attached to the disputed sales contract are 11 by Picasso, three by Braque, five Cezanne paintings, three by Marc Chagall, two by Degas, two Gauguins, two Max Ernsts, two Manets, two Miros, two Monets, three Renoirs, two Jackson Pollock oils, a Matisse, a Klee and a Kandinsky, two people familiar with the document said.

An evaluation of a third of the works by put their worth at $781.4 million. That evaluation includes a Van Gogh painting of olive pickers which could alone be worth $120 million, and a Cezanne self-portrait that he valued at $60 million.