Melik Kaylan tells the cloak-and-dagger story of the trade between Iran and the US over a record-setting de Kooning and priceless piece of Iran’s cultural and political patrimony. Iran’s pre-revolutionary cosmopolitan culture is often forgotten but Kaylan pieces back together a barter deal that got each side what it wanted most:
A gloriously illuminated manuscript from the 16th century, generally considered one of Muslim civilization’s foremost artistic expressions, it came to be known as the “Houghton” Shahnama. Why it is no longer called that, why the Met has some 78 of the initial 258 pictorial folios, and how and why the remainder of the original volume went back to Iran in a clandestine swap for the second artwork are all part of the story. […]
Four years after Houghton’s death in 1990, “Woman III” was exchanged for what remained intact of the Shahnama (118 paintings with 500 pages of calligraphy plus exquisite binding). That much is on the public record. And when the intricate deal was done and “Woman III” sold off, some $9.5 million went to the Houghton family trust. […]
Suffice to say the painting last changed hands, into the possession of hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, in 2006 for $137.5 million. Mr. Cohen purchased “Woman III” from entertainment magnate David Geffen, who had acquired it from the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1994 via a Swiss dealer. “Woman III” originally went to Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art in the 1970s during the last shah’s time and had remained there since.
Clandestine Trade (Wall Street Journal)