Lisbon Liquidates Miro Masterpieces

Lisbon -- The Portuguese government hopes to raise at least $50 million from 85 works by Joan Miro, as art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network attend today's state-sponsored liquidation.

The works by the Catalan were the property of Banco Portugues de Negocios, a bank seized by the state in 2008, and will be auctioned today and tomorrow by Christie’s International in London.

With today's sale, Portugal moves closer to exiting the European bailout program it entered almost three years ago, with an auction of bonds this month and has been lauded by Standard & Poor’s.

The Miro paintings were acquired by BPN from a private collection in Japan between 2003 and 2006, according to the sale catalogs, a time when bankers worldwide spent lavishly.

They have never been displayed publicly in the country, lying in storage more recently at the state-owned Portuguese bank that executed the taking over of BPN.

The works are now held by Parvalorem SA, a state-run company set up to manage some of the assets of the former BPN.

The new administration decided an international auction was more “adequate and transparent".

‘Only Option’

The sale is “fundamental to reduce financial costs related to BPN and retaining the collection isn’t a priority,” the Culture Ministry’s press office said in response to questions last month.

Ines Teotonio Pereira, a member of junior coalition party CDS, told parliament on Jan. 24. “Given the government’s decision to obtain a return from BPN’s assets, the sale of the Miro paintings seems to be the only option.”

Barcelona-born Miro, known for his colorful patterns, died in 1983. The works on sale span seven decades of his career. Christie’s expects to raise more than 30 million pounds ($49.6 million) with the sale, according to a December statement.

The priciest painting in the collection is an oil canvas entitled “Femmes et Oiseaux,” estimated at between 4 million and 7 million pounds. There’s also “Painting,” an oil on canvas measuring 5 meters (16 feet) long, estimated at 2.5 million to 3.5 million pounds.

Collectible Catalan

Christie’s said in the statement the collection is “one of the most extensive and impressive offerings of works by the artist ever to come to auction.”

Catalonia’s regional government would be interested in buying some of the works, Minister for Culture Ferran Mascarell i Canalda said by telephone. He said it was a “shame” Portugal is selling, though he is “such an appreciated artist.” The Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona received 989,000 visitors last year, according to the ministry.

Market Glut

A 1927 abstract by Miro entitled “Peinture (Etoile Bleue)” sold for a record 23.6 million pounds with fees in 2012 at Sotheby’s in London. It had been estimated to fetch no more than 20 million pounds. Portugal would be able to raise more money if it sold the BPN collection over time, according to Socialist Party lawmaker Ines de Medeiros.

“Introducing close to 100 Miros in the market like this, in one go, will undervalue the collection and all other Miros in the market right now,” Medeiros noted. "Selling Miros as one would sell industrial supplies doesn’t make sense. This is the worst deal in the world.”

Petition organizer Cabral Nunes, director of the Perve Galeria in Lisbon, said the Miro collection would earn as much as the government expects from the auction next week in two years if it stayed in the country.