French collector sues dealer for destroying Brancusi sculpture, asks for USD 22 M compensation

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French collector Marc Baradel is suing art dealer Asher Edelman, who oversees the art-financing company Artemus, and two insurance companies for destroying a rare sculpture by famous Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

The artwork in question is the renowned Romanian sculptor’s ‘Le Poisson/Fish’ (made around 1920-22).

Baradel filed a lawsuit to the New York State Supreme Court claiming that moments after he consigned the sculpture, the piece fell off a pedestal and broke in two. An appraisal document presented in court stated that the piece is worth up to USD 22.5 million before the incident occurred. Following its destruction, the work was reappraised at USD 16.9 million.

Therefore, Baradel has asked for a compensation of USD 22.5 million from Edelman and Artemus alongside an additional USD 5 million from HUB and Lloyd’. A consignment agreement attached to the lawsuit stated that Baradel insured it up to USD 5 million through two different insurance companies: HUB International and Lloyd’s of London. The French collector claims that none of the two companies honored the agreement after the piece broke.

On the other camp, Edelman denies Baradel’s accusation, arguing  that the seller himself mounted the work on the pedestal in his office at Artemus.

Marc Baradel mounted the Brancusi on a pedestal in my office. He went and sat down on the couch and it immediately fell. By then he had had a certificate of insurance in hand.”

The first “Fish” sculpture dates back from 1922 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and it was a veined marble work set on a circular mirror, which in turn was supported by a carved oak base. Two years later Brancusi made two hand-finished bronzes of similar size, one of which was destroyed, while the other has lost its original base.

In 1926 he made a further three bronze Fish pieces, each of which has a different wooden base. All but one of the five bronzes were mounted onto reflective metal discs, echoing the very first piece. After an interval of four years Brancusi returned to this subject, producing a large work in blue-grey marble, set on a white marble and limestone base , which is not on display at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Supporting the bronze ‘fish’ is a three-part base comprising the reflective disc and a wooden pedestal standing off-centre on a black metal disc. Brancusi often experimented with different combinations of sculptures and bases, reads a description by tate.org.uk.

Constantin Brancusi’s market share has known a significant upward trend in the past years. Last year, one of his masterpieces, “La Jeune fille sophistiquee (Portrait de Nancy Cunard)”, a 31-inch-tall bronze piece, was sold for USD 71 million (EUR 62 M), breaking a new record and making Brâncuşi the second most expensive sculptor in the world, after Alberto Giacometti.

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