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Private Parts: Le Rêve by Pablo Picasso

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Private Parts is a series exposing the raw, gritty, and true stories behind artworks in private collections. Every week, you’ll find the untold tales of the back stabbings, thefts, and $100 million deals that move these works to secret lairs and impregnable vaults around the world. We’ll always be crazy in love with museums and galleries, but we also believe in giving the people what they want: All the art.

This week, behold Pablo Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream).

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Oh, hello. I didn’t see you come in.

This portrait of Picasso’s 22-year old mistress and baby mama, Marie-Therese Walter, has gotten more billionaires hot and bothered than deathbed recollections of childhood innocence. It’s the MVP of Picasso’s series featuring nothing but Marie-Therese.

Until Le Rêve became a hustled commodity, the entire series was viewed largely as a blight on Picasso’s career. Mostly because Picasso and MT’s relationship doesn’t exactly fit on a Hallmark card. She was some 17-year old stranger he picked up on the street when he was a ripe 45-years young.

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Costume jewelry magnate Victor Ganz purchased Le Rêve for $7,000 in 1941 as the first piece in what became one of the most important art collections in modern memory. That’s $115,000 when adjusted for inflation, because all money is basically Monopoly money.

Over the next 50 years, Victor and his wife Sally amassed what was (for a time) the world’s largest private collection of Picassos. They bought so many Picassos that Picasso himself gave them two personalized drawings for free. Woot, BOGO! The walls of their New York apartment overlooking the East River were also lined with works by Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and a shopping list of more.

After the Ganzes passed, Uncle Sam came calling. Victor and Sally left their kids so many paintings the inheritance tax was literally unaffordable. So, they called up Christie’s and sent the bunch to auction. Le Rêve alone went for $48.5 million to Austrian hedge fund manager Wolfgang Flöttl, surpassing its $30 million expectations.

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Uncle Sam’s tax game is pretty harsh. Just give him what he wants so he’ll leave.

Here’s where things get dicey, and where Le Rêve has developed a reputation for being cursed. Flöttl resold Le Rêve to casino/hotel mogul Steve Wynn in 2001 for about $60 million. Sold is an understatement. He unloaded, quick, amid troubles with his firm that eventually lead to a 10 month jail stint.

Wynn loved Le Rêve. It hung in the Bellagio under Wynn’s tenure. He almost used Le Rêve as the name of a property that eventually became the current Wynn hotel off the strip. It doesn’t take a detective to figure out where the Cirque Du Soleil show at Wynn the hotel got its name: Le Rêve .

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Ah, that classic Cirque Du Soleil tradition where one of the audience members is sacrificed to the giant snail that sings the music for every show. C'est magnifique!

Then comes the $40 million elbow. It’s 2006. Wynn the man agrees to sell Le Rêve to hedge fund super ninja Steven Cohen for $139 million. He’s just giddy with the agreement. So, he takes his a group of his good friends in Vegas to see the painting hanging in his office. A group which included the late filmmaker Nora Ephron, art dealer Serge Sorokko, and journalist Barbara Walters.

Wynn is talking about the painting’s history, speaking about the Ganz and their $7,000 purchase even, when he turns. Gesticulating himself right through MT’s arm. His billion dollar elbow puts a silver dollar sized hole in his $100 million painting. His response?

“Oh shit. Look what I’ve done.”

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Luckily for the painting, Picasso, and art in general: Steve Wynn is a billionaire. Sure, putting a hole through the painting was a YUUUGE collector faux-pas. Not to mention it canceled the deal with Steven Cohen. The errant elbow cast quite the shadow over the day, yeah. But, Wynn’s assistant just called up the most experienced, qualified art restorer in the country. Boom, the painting was repaired before the end of the year. All that’s left is to call the insurance, ‘cause formalities and all…

Only, here is where Wynn hit a huge snag. The insurer, Lloyd’s of London, refused a hat trick of claims to pay out the $54 million in claimed losses for the damage, to pay for the $110,000 restoration costs (including consulting fees and the like), or to provide a new appraised value of the work. 

With a $350 million policy on the painting, it’s safe to assume this royally pissed Wynn off. He sued. Lloyd’s got their collective heads out of their collective butts, paid out an undisclosed sum in damage, and estimated Le Rêve at an unfortunate $85 million.

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A few years later, Steven Cohen wanted to buy the painting all over again. Sans elbow gesticulations, of course. They arrived at $155 million, the highest price paid for a piece of art by a US collector at the time. Effectively saying, “Screw you, Lloyd’s. You don’t run the money game or the art game. This is the Steve and Steven Best Friends Forever Art Club.”

Rumor has it that Steve Cohen bought the work to celebrate the cessation of an SEC investigation into his firm’s alleged insider trading. A cessation won through negotiations to pay $616 million in fines and fees. It’s like the old saying goes, ‘The only way to really celebrate breaking the law is to flaunt your wealth. So, flaunt it girl!’

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By Clayton

Clayton Schuster

Sr. Contributor