Suzanne Muchnic’s review of a history of Norton Simon’s art collection contains this narrative of Simon’s activities as an art buyer. This should remind some who decry the auction guarantees and active art trading that the practices are hardly unusual or new:
In the convoluted case of Edouard Manet’s “Still Life With Fish and Shrimp,” Simon bought the Impressionist painting in 1960 for $110,000 and consigned it to Sotheby’s in 1973 — with a guarantee that the auction house would buy the picture for $1.5 million if bidding didn’t go that high. When no buyer emerged, the firm kept its promise and tried to sell the artwork privately, but had no luck until five years later when Simon returned. He offered to buy it back for $400,000 if he was the winning bidder or even the under-bidder on the “Branchini Madonna,” a 15th-century Italian altarpiece scheduled to go on the block.
In a deal that still causes eyes to roll in the art world, Simon snagged the “Madonna” for $1.1 million and took back the still life for an additional $400,000. He was delighted to have paid a bargain price for the Italian Renaissance painting, which turned out to be a jewel after it was cleaned. Simon being Simon, he was even happier to have won bragging rights about making a big profit on the Manet without losing it