Art Market

A collector who was duped into selling a Brancusi for $100,000 is suing for $200 million.

Nate Freeman
Jul 18, 2019 4:03PM, via New York Post
Constantin Brâncuși
View of the studio: Plato, Mademoiselle Pogany II, and Golden Bird, ca. 1920

The New York Post has the details of a strange and potentially juicy lawsuit between a New York collector and a man who claimed to be a representative of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

According to the report, the collector Stuart Piver claims he was duped by an attorney named John McFadden into selling him a valuable bronze by Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, Mademoiselle Pogany II, for $100,000. Apparently McFadden presented himself as a trustee and representative for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and was prepared to sell the work to the institution or through Christie’s. In order to do this, McFadden told Pivar, it would be “advantageous” if he was listed as the owner of the work.

Now, according to the report, McFadden is refusing to return the sculpture, claiming that he is its legal owner, despite paying just the $100,000 fee, when Brancusi sculptures have sold for more than $70 million at auction.

Pivar said he believed the fee he paid and the contract he signed were simply protocol, and that it was “necessary to consummate the sale to the museum”—but that the lawyer subsequently emailed him and said that after he signed that paper, “the deal was final,” and that “the sculpture would remain in (McFadden’s) possession forever.” Even though Pivar lined up “legitimate buyers” for the work, McFadden would not let him see it.

In retaliation, Pivar has filed a lawsuit, which does not state the value of the work itself, but is seeking $200 million in damages.

The Post quotes the five-page legal filing as saying:

The aforesaid conduct by (McFadden) constitutes a theft by deception and a fraud [from the beginning] … as it was never the intention of the defendant to offer the sculpture for sale to the museum, but rather to obtain ownership of the statue itself by deceit, misrepresentation and subterfuge.

It is unclear what the provenance of Mademoiselle Pogany II is, or how Pivar came to own it. Brancusi conceived of the work, which is a portrait of the artist Margit Pogány, in 1919, 1920, or 1921—museum collection listings give differing dates—and made multiple casts, some of which are in the collections of the Getty in Los Angeles, the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, New York, and the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven. Versions of the sculpture also exist in marble and plaster.

The Post notes that, despite McFadden’s stated ties to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he was relieved of his trustee duties in 2014; independent reporting found no mention of him as a trustee past 2011. Earlier this year, another Philadelphia museum, the Barnes Foundation, announced that John H. McFadden, Esq., had been added to the board.

Nate Freeman