'Drunken' man loses £1.3m artwork

Sunday 23 October 2011 04:36

A man entrusted with helping to sell a 1.3 million-dollar painting said it disappeared while he was in a drunken haze, according to a lawsuit filed by a co-owner of the canvas.

James Haggerty took the painting, noted French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's circa 1857 Portrait Of A Girl, to a Manhattan hotel on July 28 for a potential buyer to examine, Kristyn Trudgeon's lawsuit said.

Then Mr Haggerty went to the hotel bar and was seen on security cameras leaving the building with the painting after midnight.

But there was no sign of the portrait on the cameras at his Manhattan apartment building when he got home nearly two hours later, the lawsuit said. And the next morning, Mr Haggerty told painting co-owner Thomas Doyle he "could not recall its whereabouts, citing that he had had too much to drink the previous evening", according to the lawsuit filed in a Manhattan state court.

Ms Trudgeon is seeking what she says is the roughly £840,000 value of the painting, which spent years in the collection of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, according to museum spokeswoman Sarah Stifler.

Mr Haggerty did not immediately return phone messages left at two possible home numbers for him and at his office at a company that leases out private jets.

Mr Doyle is not involved in the lawsuit. He is a friend of Mr Haggerty's and involved him in the effort to sell the painting, according to Ms Trudgeon's lawyer, Max Di Fabio.

Corot, who lived from 1796 to 1875, was an important figure among the proto-Impressionist group known as the Barbizon School. Members turned their backs on Parisian urbanity to embrace a back-to-the-land emphasis on painting scenes of rural French life, often doing their artwork outdoors.

Ms Trudgeon, who also was acquainted with Haggerty, owns a small portion of the painting, Mr Di Fabio said. He said he had no information on whether it was insured.

Ms Trudgeon "was terribly hurt and dismayed and disappointed", Mr Di Fabio said. "She just would like some answers."

Portrait Of A Girl left the Hammer Museum's collection in 2007, when the museum and a related foundation parted ways, Stifler said. The museum was established by oil baron Armand Hammer and is now affiliated with the University of California-Los Angeles.

The museum agreed to return "Portrait of a Girl" and dozens of other paintings to a Hammer-related foundation, and the foundation was allowed to sell the Corot canvas and a few others, Ms Stifler said.

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