Art market

The taste of the spectacularly wealthy Palm Beach

Dealers come to share in the benefits of no income tax whatsoever


Palm Beach: to Americans, those two words speak of Old Guard Society—clutches of Phipps, Huttons and Dodge. Today, that image of lavish living from the heyday of the 1920s has been revived and is attracting some eighty dealers to the International Fine Art and Antique Fair (until 7 February). The stats alone speak of just how spectacularly wealthy this Florida enclave is: Forbes magazine of billionaires and megamillionaires even notes Palm Beach.

Close to 50% of the homes sold in the US in 1997 for more than $10 million were in Palm Beach.

“No other place has this concentration of real estate wealth,” says Joy Hearn, a land appraiser with the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office. At last count, there were more than a dozen residences appraised in the double digit millions, she reports. For example, financier Norman Peltz boasts a $32.7 million residence—and it is not even his full time home.

Megamillionaires making Palm Beach their winter home include Sidney Kimmel of Jones Apparel Group with a 26,000 square foot home; Irwin and Terry Kramer with 37,100 square feet; Nine West shoes Jerome and Anne Fisher with 35,000 square feet, and Abe Gosman with 64,000 square feet.

What’s the draw? It is very simple: the weather—and no State, nor even a local, income tax (Florida is one of nine State in the US without income tax).

But what is the taste down here? Christie's Meg Bowen reports on the year-end, while appraising estates and client's cast-offs: “Fine French eighteenth-century furniture, signed diamond sets from the likes of Schlumberger and Cartier, as well as sporting pictures came out of Palm Beach in 1998”.

Art connoisseurs may sneer at such gilt and showy gems as geriatric or at best retro, and the taste is changing, say decorators who drive a substantial portion of arts sales.

Anne Downey, joint chairman, with New York decorator Mario Buatta, of Palm Beach fair’s Collectors and Connoisseurs Committee, sees several different styles. For those into the contemporary whites, Kenneth Noland, Stella and Calder are the staples: “Botero is key for many collectors, too.” English furniture along with the requisite accessories—tea caddies, sporting paintings and so on—are also routinely stocked.

As for the dealers,Sebastian Goetz of New York's Artemis has brought an Odilon Redon pastel of “St George and the dragon” for $550,000 to the fair, while London's Lefevre Gallery has a Derain priced at $2.75 million.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Palm Beach'