For quite a while, modern art dealers have been whispering that the Cézanne Card Players (circa 1895) painting long owned by the late Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos had been sold for a princely sum, perhaps a total so large that it would be a new record for the sale of any single artwork, public or private, ever. Now Vanity Fair has published details of that rumored sale, naming a pricetag—$250 million—and a buyer—the Qatari royal family.
No one directly connected to the transaction is going on the record, but Alexandra Peers, a former editor at The Observer, reports that the sale has been confirmed by multiple sources, and relays a bit of alleged behind-the-scenes jockeying for the piece:
“Shortly before his death in the winter of 2011, Embiricos began discussions about its sale, which was handled by his estate. Two art dealers—William Acquavella and another, rumored to be Larry Gagosian—offered upward of $220 million for the painting, people close to the matter said. But the royal family of Qatar, without quibbling on price, outbid them, at $250 million.”
Fine-art appraiser Victor Wiener helpfully notes that “$250 million is a fortune.” Indeed, it very well may be the most money that has ever been handed over for a single work of art. But what a work! The last of the five Card Players paintings the Modernist master made, it is the only one not firmly ensconced in a museum, Ms. Peers notes. (The other four are at the Met, the d’Orsay in Paris, the Courtauld and the Barnes, soon to be in Philadelphia. No mean bunch.)
Given that the current auction record is a paltry $106.5 million, paid for a Picasso at Christie’s in 2010, and that the record for a private deal is rumored to hover around $150 million, it seems likely that a stunning new record has been set, and that top-flight collectors looking to acquire the absolutely top pieces in private hands may need to dig deeper in the future.
How much, for instance, would a collector be willing to pay for Rembrandt’s 1654 portrait of Jan Six? Back in 2003, in an ARTnews article that Vanity Fair refers to, a dealer floats an easy $150 million price tag. Experts in that same piece set the value of Card Players at just $100 million.