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Picassos settle sculpture custody battle in New York

NEW YORK (AFP) - An international custody battle for a Picasso sculpture worth more than $100 million has been settled in favor of a New York billionaire, forcing the artist’s family to pay agents of the Qatari royal family.

The out-of-court deal required Pablo Picasso’s heirs to make an undisclosed payment to London-based agents Pelham Europe, who initially negotiated to buy the sculpture for $47 million on behalf of their Qatari clients.

A family dispute prompted the Picassos to renege on the deal and sell the sculpture to New York art dealer Larry Gagosian for more than $100 million instead. The Gagosian Gallery then sold it to billionaire Leon Black for an undisclosed sum.

The sculpture in question, the 1931 “Buste de Femme (Marie-Therese),” was last seen in public at New York’s Museum of Modern Art earlier this year.

The tortured legal dispute involved courts in France, Switzerland and the United States, exposing a damaging breakdown in communications and bitter rivalry among the descendants of one of the 20th century’s greatest artists.

The parties said in a joint statement on Wednesday that they were “pleased” to have reached “a good faith global settlement” resolving the dispute in all courts for good.

The Gagosian Gallery said the settlement was “a complete vindication” of its position and that Black would now receive his sculpture.

“The Gagosian Gallery purchased and sold this sculpture in good faith and without any knowledge of Picasso and Pelham's prior dealings, as we have said all along,” it said in a statement.

Pelham Europe had gone to court seeking damages from Gagosian and Picasso’s granddaughter Diana Widmaier-Picasso.

The agents’ lawyers confirmed Wednesday that Maya Widmaier-Ruiz Picasso, Picasso’s daughter whose mother is depicted in the sculpture, had settled.

“The amount of the payment is confidential, but Pelham and its client are very happy with the settlement,” they said in a statement.

They had claimed that Maya agreed to sell the sculpture to Pelham in November 2014 for $47 million to go on public display in a Qatar museum.

But she pulled out of the deal days before the final payment was due.

Pelham alleged that her daughter, Diana, had objected to the deal and negotiated the Gagosian sale in May 2015.

The settlement heads off a trial scheduled for September.

Forbes magazine estimates Black, a private equity magnate, to be worth $4.7 billion.

He reportedly bought Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” which fetched $120 million at auction in 2012, a world record at the time.