Tonight, Sotheby's is selling this untitled 1961 painting by Mark Rothko during its Contemporary Art Evening Auction; it's expected to sell for between $18 million and $25 million -- pocket change. But, according to Bloomberg, it's also the subject of a lawsuit filed last week in Dallas County District Court involving its previous owner, Marguerite Hoffman, widow of the late Robert Hoffman.
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Says the lengthy Bloomberg piece, after Robert died in August '06, Marguerite sold the painting -- which had been hanging as a donation on the walls of the Dallas Museum of Art -- "with the proviso that the details of the sale remain a secret." Says her attorney, Roger Netzer, "The reason she wanted to keep it a secret was because it was a time of grief, and she didn't want the public scrutiny."
So she sold it through a private dealer to a Mexican financier, who, says the story, promised not to resell the painting and "pocket the premium that plaintiff had forgone" by forgoing the auction route, according to the suit, which names the financier and Sotheby's, which says it's "without merit." Hoffman, who's on the DMA board of trustees, is not named in the painting's provenance provided by Sotheby's; it does, however, list its exhibition as part of the DMA's Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art in February through April of '07. Says Netzer, she is "suing to vindicate her honor and to set a standard for what is not to be tolerated in the art world."
Update at 11:50 a.m.: I've tracked down the original complaint; it follows after the jump. Also on the other side, the defendants' notice of removal to federal court.