My Five Minutes As A High-Roller…



When I was a kid, I loved playing the board game Masterpiece with my brother. The fact that he cheated didn’t even particularly bother me. I felt like Aristotle Onassis, shelling out inconceivable amounts of money for a Rembrandt.

So it was a nifty surprise one recent Saturday morning when I got a message from a friend in the U.K. saying: “Hey—Quick message only, sorry…I’ve got someone selling a Picasso and a Monet. £4.8 & £3.9m respectively. You know any collectors in the market? A Swiss family liquidating some assets…”

Let’s put aside the fact that someone was casually asking if I knew someone with north of $14,250,000 to throw around. It felt sexy even to contemplate it, and while it seemed too good to be true, dollar signs danced in my head—a standard commission is 10% and even a sliver of that would be a hefty hunk of change. So I said I’d look into it.

He sent me more details:  “La Seine à Bougival“ was oil on canvas, dated 1870, 40 x 73 cm., signed in the lower left: “Claude Monet.” “The Painter and His Model,” was oil on canvas, dated 1964, signed on the upper left and reverse, and accompanied by a certificate by Claude Picasso dated “Paris, 2013.”

The Monet:


MONET La Seine à Bougival - image framed (1)
…and the Picasso…
Pic64 the painter and his model 81 x 65 cm image new1
Because there’s always a catch, it turned out to be this: My friend only had a few days to find a buyer, or they’d be sold to a collector who’d already expressed interest. I emailed a French friend in New York whose family business started out making high-end wallpaper in Paris but evolved into the atelier where Picasso produced his lithographs (as did Matisse, Braque, Miró, Chagall, and many more.) Trying to sound as blasé as possible, I asked if he was interested.
He wrote back: “Yes, of course, I am interested…The Picasso is more my beat, but I do have a couple of clients in Dallas and museums looking for a Monet.”
By now, I felt about as glamorous and debonair as Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief”
And, of course, the money was as good as mine. I was already spending it in my head, or more precisely, fantasizing about paying off some of my debts.
There were some thrilling email exchanges in which I knowingly gossiped with my UK friend about some of the art world’s more notorious figures (including one who supposedly deals arms from his ranch on the coast of Kenya), and in-the-know messages to my friend in New York, explaining that the Picasso happened to be there but was being sent back to Geneva, and to tell me if I could arrange for him to see it.
And then, of course, the deal fell through. The deadline came and went. My cut of $1.4 million (whatever that would have been) evaporated.
And you know what? It wasn’t all that different from when I played Masterpiece with my brother as a kid. I’ve since found a 1996 edition of the board game on eBay for $29.95, and despite losing all that money, I think I can swing it.