High-Profile Couples Sells Pricey Artwork in Divorces

Deciding who gets the house or the car or how to divide the furniture are decisions most divorcing couples may face. For some high-net-worth divorces, the couple has to decide what happens to the Picasso.

In recent years, auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been where many high-ticket pieces of art have found new homes. Instead of keeping the art, the divorcing couples choose to auction them off as part of their divorce settlement.

Picasso, Warhol, and Other Sold to Highest Bidder

Pieces of art that were undoubtedly conversation pieces when entertaining friends and associates were traded in for big bucks to satisfy the terms of a divorce.

Recent divorces with auctioned art include the following:

  • New York real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his wife, Linda, sold their art collection for a record $922.2 million. Pieces were by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Willem de Kooning, and Agnes Martin. The New York Supreme Court ordered the couple to sell 65 artworks and split the profits as part of their 2018 divorce proceedings. Because of the pandemic and other issues, the art did not go on sale until 2021 and continued into 2022. The Macklowes had married in 1959.
  • In May 2022, a dozen pieces of art from Anne Bass’ estate was auctioned at Christie’s, bringing in more than $363 million. She had acquired the artwork as part of her 1988 divorce after 22 years of marriage to Texas oil magnate Sid Bass.
  • Ten works of art, including a 17th-century work by Peter Paul Rubens, will be sold in January 2023 from the collection of retired real estate mogul and Met trustee Mark Fisch and his estranged wife, former U.S. judge Rachel Davidson. Their art collection, valued at $177 million, is a major complicating factor in their divorce.

High-Value Assets Are Typical in Wealthy Divorces

When high-profile and wealthy couples end their marriages, expensive art is only one unique consideration. Jewelry, yachts, multiple homes, luxury vehicles, and wine collections are often a significant part of the assets that must be divided in a divorce. Business interests, investment accounts, and real estate holdings are common, too. Determining how to divide or liquefy these assets is challenging and can take months if not years to complete.

Equitable Distribution Laws Apply to All Divorces

New York’s equitable distribution laws apply to all divorces, no matter the socioeconomic status of the parties. New York judges are tasked with dividing the property equitably, not necessarily equally.

Marital property is generally all assets and property acquired or earned during the marriage. The name on a title does not determine ownership. Separate property is what was owned before the marriage by each person. An increase of value in separate property can sometimes be considered marital property by the court.

A divorcing couple can negotiate a property settlement, typically with the help of their attorneys. When that is not possible, a judge will make the decision for them.

Factors the judge will consider in property distribution include the following:

  • The income and property of each spouse at the time of the marriage and at the time of the divorce
  • How long the couple was married
  • Each spouse's age and health, as well as future potential earnings
  • The need for a custodial parent to occupy or own the marital home and its contents, if minor children are involved
  • If either spouse receives spousal maintenance in the divorce
  • Either spouse’s contributions as a homemaker

Complicated Divorces Require Experienced Legal Counsel

You do not need to have an art collection worth millions of dollars to be embroiled in a complicated divorce. Spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation, and property division disputes can heighten the emotional and financial costs of divorce.

At the Law Office of Dennis R. Vetrano, Jr., LLC, we have the knowledge and experience to navigate the most complicated divorce cases. As a boutique firm, we limit the number of cases we take so that appropriate attention and focus can be devoted to each one.

Schedule a consultation with us to discuss your case and options. Contact us online or call (845) 605-4330.

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