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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Minor Dispute Regarding the Peaceable Kingdom

HicksAccording to the Wall Street Journal, tech entrepreneur and multimillionaire Halsey Minor bought the painting shown at left, Edward Hicks' "The Peaceable Kingdom With the Leopard of Serenity," from Sotheby's for $9.6 million. At the same time, Mr. Hicks bought other paintings from Sotheby's and the celebrated auction house is now suing Mr. Hicks to collect $13.8 million. Mr. Minor is fighting back, however, with a suit of his own in which he alleges that a Sotheby's agent encouraged him to purchase the Hicks painting without disclosing that Sotheby's had an economic interest in it. As the WSJ puts it, Mr. Minor alleges that Sotheby's was selling the painting in order "to recoup money owed it by another collector."

The WSJ reports that the Hicks painting had been used by its owner as collateral for an $11.5 million loan that the owner negotiated with Sotheby's. New York law requires auctioneers to disclose economic interests in the pieces that they sell with a symbol next to the painting in the catalogue. Sotheby's did not include such a symbol in this case because it claims its interest in the painting was a "security interest," not an "economic interest."

The voluble Mr. Minor tells his story, at remarkable length, in an exchange of e-mails published in Valleywag here. Among other things, Mr. Minor writes the following:

its just like a broker showing you houses. he has to let you know if one belongs to him if he was showing it to you. Sotheby's must show a triangle by the lot number in these cases. Many people believe it should be way more evident. I was sold this painting by the American specialist. I thought she was serving as an expert but in fact she was a saleswoman for Sotheby's.

. . .

They tried to intimidate me and the story grew far larger than they expected and blew up in there face. I enjoy collecting art but its not my business. It is there business and they rely on people's trust and confidence. Even if they were right I would be creating a reasonable doubt about there business practices. Considering the last CEO and Chairman did jail time I think I would have taken another tact. i would have confessed and tried to work something out. I would have been reasonable then but not now.

[Jeremy Telman]

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