Is New York and London dealer Timothy Sammons the art world’s new Larry Salander?
According to court records and a lengthy report in the Daily Mail, the once-esteemed dealer, who brokered the sale of a John Singer Sargent painting to the Bill Gates Foundation for $10.7 million (£6.7 million) in 1996, has been named in several lawsuits in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Numerous plaintiffs claim that he failed to pay out some, or all, of the proceeds of works he sold on their behalf, while others allege that he sold works that he was not authorized to sell in the first place. The artists are an impressive group: Vincent van Gogh, Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal), Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Henry Moore, Amedeo Modigliani and René Magritte.
Sammons’s website is no longer functional and the phone line at his Upper East Side Gallery has been temporarily disconnected. Several of the lawsuits note that the UK High Court of Justice froze up to £7 million ($10.7 million) of Sammons’s assets. His passport has been confiscated and he is now legally limited to a £750 ($1,500) weekly allowance.
Sammons is the former director of Sotheby’s Chinese art in New York, He set up his own operation in 1996 and became a trusted advisor and agent for many high profile clients. The Daily Mail reports that he lives in a £5.7 million ($8.9 million) mansion in North London.
Several of the complaints state that he got into financial trouble about three years ago and allegedly tried to get back on track by selling unauthorized artwork and keeping all or part of the proceeds from these disputed sales.
The case resembles that of Larry Salander, a once-prominent Upper East Side art dealer who also ran afoul of the law. Salander resorted to swindling millions from dozens of collectors through numerous schemes including selling works, or shares of works he had no rights to sell, and pocketing the money. His gallery collapsed in 2007, and he is now serving a prison sentence.
According to the Daily Mail, in a case being heard in the High Court, Sammons was sued by the W.H. Smith family trust over a £1.6 million ($2.7 million) Canaletto that Sammons sold last year, and allegedly pocketed the profits from. The leading beneficiary is Maria Carmela, Viscountess Hambleden.
In another case that is being heard in both London and New York, a New Zealand collector, Stephanie Overton, is trying to recover £7.1 million ($10.7 million) she says she is owed after Sammons allegedly sold her paintings to several New York dealers and did not remit the proceeds to her.
Another British collector, Lady Corinne Green, is suing dealer Andrew Rose, in connection with a series of Henry Moore paintings that she consigned to Sammons in June 2013.
According to a June 2 story in Courthouse News, Green says Sammons had “no right to sell the Moore piece to Art Finance Partners LLC and its owner Andrew Rose.” Curiously, Green did not name Sammons as a defendant.
“AFP knew or should have known that Sammons did not have the ability or the right to convey good title to the artwork,” her complaint asserts. The price for the Moore was supposed to be £300,000 ($460,000 or more), but Sammons sold it and three other paintings for a total of $360,000, a figure that Green said is “unreasonably low,” in her complaint.
Two more lawsuits that have been filed in US Courts include one brought in April by the California-based Cummings Revocable Trust over a Van Gogh painting, Cows in a Meadow (1883), that Sammons sold through Sotheby’s London last June for £380,000 ($646,800). The Cummings Trust has also named Sotheby’s as a defendant, alleging that the auction house “knew or should have known that [the Cummings Trust] was the owner of the painting.”
In response to a request for comment, a spokesman for Sotheby’s told artnet News: “Sotheby’s does not comment on ongoing litigation.”
Their complaint alleges that after the sale, Sammons “became evasive and circumspect” and that after months of repeated demands, on or about December 16, 2014, Sammons remitted £150,000 ($235,300) to the Trust.
Despite repeated requests, neither Sammons nor Sotheby’s has “remitted the amount due to the” Trust on the sale of the painting, according to the claim. The suit cites “financial hardship” that Sammons was experiencing and states that he “intended and did use the proceeds…to satisfy other financial obligations or to fund his lifestyle.”
Another suit, filed in May, comes from Detroit collector Ralph Booth II and involves a Paul Gauguin painting titled Nature Morte a la Ceramique (1888), which is valued at $5 million. Booth inherited the work from his grandfather, who bought it in 1926 for the now astounding price of $1,500.
Booth and Sammons reached an agreement whereby Sammons would pay Booth $5 million plus accrued interest of $469,6234, for the period of May 24, 2011 to October 5, 2012.
Unlike some of his fellow claimants, it appears Booth did not make out so bad. His lawsuit says Sammons has paid him all but $193,000 of the total amount he is owed.
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