A New York collector has filed a $200m lawsuit against a lawyer whom he claims persuaded him to sell a Brancusi sculpture for only $100,000 with the understanding that he would be amply compensated when it fetched a higher price at a museum or auction house.
The lawsuit, filed this week in New York State Supreme Court by the collector Stuart Pivar, contends that the lawyer, John McFadden, based in Philadelphia and New York, approached him in May about a potential acquisition of the 1920 bronze sculpture, Mademoiselle Pogany III, by the Philadelphia Museum of Art or Christie’s. McFadden, who represented himself as a trustee of the Philadelphia museum, then carried off the sculpture while pledging to pursue that sale, the complaint states.
Later the lawyer presented him with a contract under which Pivar would sell the statue to McFadden for $100,000, according to the lawsuit. The two signed under the understanding that the statue would subsequently be sold to one of those institutions under McFadden’s name, it adds. But both knew that the sculpture was worth “many times” that, the suit says.
Pivar contends that to his “shock and emotional distress”, the lawyer then notified him in an email a few days later that the sculpture would remain in McFadden’s possession “forever”.
McFadden could not be reached for comment.
Pivar, reached briefly by telephone, said “I’ve been hoodwinked”.
“I’ve been collecting for 70 years and this is the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” says the collector, who is 88. Both men are known in the art world.
Pivar is representing himself in the lawsuit. Asked why he agreed to sell the statue for $100,000 to McFadden if he knew that it was worth many times that, he said he agreed to that figure with the understanding that McFadden would compensate him when it fetched a higher price via Christie’s or the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“It was implicit to say the least that this [$100,000] has nothing had to do with the final figure,” Pivar said. He pointed out that a Brancusi sculpture sold for $71m (including fees) at a Christie’s auction in May 2018.
Pivar says he acquired the sculpture, modeled in 1919 and cast in 1920, two years ago from a seller who had purchased the estate of Constantin Antonovici, who was an assistant to Brancusi. His suit seeks $100,000 for “the loss of property” and another $100,000 for “the loss of income by the sale of property by tortious interference”.