Monday, June 2, 2008

Picasso, Medicine and Lloyds

Photo © Am Ang Zhang/Bauhinia Press 2008

Trivia question: What is the link between Picasso, medicine and Lloyds (of London)?

Here is the answer.

Retinitis Pigmentosa – latest advance in Medicine

Retinitis Pigmentosa is the name given to a group of hereditary disorders of the retina, a sort of sensor like those on digital cameras that is responsible for transmitting images formed by the lens to the brain for interpretation. The disorder can affect different receptor cells and some sufferers may have a slower rate of deterioration than others. There is often a gradual loss of peripheral vision which makes sufferers more vulnerable to knocking things around them.

(In case you are wondering – no, Picasso did not suffer from retinitis pigmentosa.)

Very recently
London’s Moorfield Hospital did a trial of an artificial eye device (called Argus II) developed by a US firm Second Sight for such sufferers. A tiny camera and transmitter is attached to a pair of glasses, powered by a wireless microprocessor and battery pack that can be worn on the belt. An ultra-thin electronic receiver and electrode panel is implanted in the eye

Exciting news indeed, though it is too late to prevent the damage to one famous Picasso painting.

Le Rêve by Picasso

There were many women in Picasso’s life, and a number of them have been immortalized in his paintings, giving the proud owners a highly valuable asset and of course in some cases a very pleasant picture to look at.

Picasso: Woman in White Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Although the model was always thought to be the artist's Russian wife Olga Khokhlova, it has recently been suggested that Picasso's muse was actually an American beauty, Sara Murphy, wife of the painter Gerald Murphy, with whom Picasso was infatuated between 1921 and 1924.

We may never know the true identity of the sitter, but since Picasso frequently fused the features of different people into a single idealized portrait, it is possible that this is just such a case. If so, the features of Olga and Sara are integrated here into a masterful and striking composition, full of tenderness and classical beauty.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art

This painting really shows that Picasso could truly paint and draw. We cannot say the same of some modern artists who should perhaps remain nameless.

Could you however imagine how Picasso’s style evolved from this to Le Rêve?

This is a painting of Picasso’s 24-year old mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

“Le Rêve” by Picasso
Christie's file photo via AP

Le Rêve was first bought for $7,000 in 1941 by Victor and Sally Ganz of New York City. It was sold at Christie's auction house on

November 11, 1997 for an unexpectedly high $48.4 million, apparently to Wolfgang Flöttl, an Austrian born financier who later sold it to casino magnate Steve Wynn for an undisclosed sum, estimated to be about $60 million.

On October 9th 2006, news first broke on the pages of the New York Post:

Cubist Killer was the headline and apparently the painting had suffered a six-inch tear.

Two weeks later the New Yorker revealed the full story in The $40-Million Elbow.

Nora Ephron, who wrote Heartburn (inspired by the affair of her second husband, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, with Margaret Jay, daughter of Jim Callaghan), When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, etc. wrote about the episode after the New York Post let the cat out of the bag. As you might expect, her account was most entertaining.

“The buyer of the painting, Wynn told us, was a man named Steven Cohen. Everyone seemed to know who Steven Cohen was, a hedge fund billionaire who lived in Connecticut in a house with a fabulous art collection he had just recently amassed. ‘This is the most money ever paid for a painting,’ Steve Wynn said. The price was $4 million more than Ronald Lauder had recently paid for a Klimt. Oh, that Klimt. It had set a bar, no question of that, and Wynn was thrilled to have beaten it. He invited us to come see the painting before it moved to Connecticut, never to be seen again by anyone but people who know Steven Cohen.
There, on the wall, were two large Picassos, one of them Le Reve. Steve Wynn launched into a long story about the painting -- he told us that it was a painting of Picasso's mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, that it was extremely erotic, and that if you looked at it carefully (which I did, for the first time, although I'd seen it before at the Bellagio) you could see that the head of Marie-Therese was divided in two sections and that one of them was a penis. This was not a good moment for me vis a vis the painting. In fact, I would have to say that it made me pretty much think I wouldn't pay five dollars for it.”

My sentiment completely. On the other hand, I would have the Woman in Whilte hanging all the time in my best room.

“He raised his hand to show us something about the painting -- and at that moment, his elbow crashed backwards right through the canvas.
There was a terrible noise.
Wynn stepped away from the painting, and there, smack in the middle of Marie-Therese Walter's plump and allegedly-erotic forearm, was a black hole the size of a silver dollar - or, to be more exactly, the size of the tip of Steve Wynn's elbow -- with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction.”

Steve Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa.

For further detail I urge you read Nora’s full account.

The Lloyds of London Connection

Where did Lloyds of London come into this drama?

Well, Mr Wynn would not have the painting worth $139m uninsured, would he? What is interesting is that he then tried to make a claim for $54 million in lost value due to damage, and not surprisingly, Lloyds was not exactly forthcoming.
USA Today on Jan,13th 2007 reported:

“A day after filing a lawsuit against Lloyd's, Wynn on Friday attacked the insurance industry as a whole, accusing insurance companies of ‘irresponsible, careless, inconsiderate and deliberate evasive behavior’ that too often works for them.

He said insurers play ‘dirty tricks’ and habitually delay responding to claims, hoping to wear down those making claims and get them to settle for much less than what they are owed.

‘Most folks that have insurance can't afford the legal fees, so they take what they get,’ Wynn said in a telephone interview. ‘There's only one way to stop this kind of thing, and that is to go to court.’”

Guess what, Lloyds eventually settled for an undisclosed sum. Perhaps Nora could find out for us how much he got. Steve Wynn can certainly afford his legal fees. Hopefully Argus II will be ready soon enough before another painting gets damaged.

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