Friday, May 13, 2005

Public Treasure Sold to Parasite

There are few wealthy families more thoroughly parasitic than the heirs of Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. Their fortune is truly a pile of gold resting on top of a mountain of suffering, here in Wal-Mart's stores and abroad in sweat shops and Chinese concentration camps. Now a painting by Asher Durand, one of the masters of the nineteenth century Hudson Valley School, has been sold by the New York Public Library to Walton's daughter Alice Walton:

The sale ended suspense over whether the painting, the 1849 Hudson River School landscape "Kindred Spirits," would remain in New York. When the library, citing a need to increase its endowment, offered the work for sale last month, it indicated that it would give New York institutions preferential purchase terms.

Sotheby's acted as the library's agent for the sale, holding a silent auction for which interested parties were asked to submit sealed bids.

Although the auction house declined to confirm the exact purchase price, it said the price far eclipsed the previous auction record for an American painting, which was set in 1999 when Bill Gates bought George Bellows's "Polo Crowd" for $27.5 million. A dealer in American painting and someone familiar with the transaction, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said the cost exceeded $35 million.

The price was also substantially higher than a sealed bid made jointly by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, according to Harold Holzer, the Met's spokesman. He said yesterday that the two institutions had "bid collaboratively in an effort to share the financial burden and the public opportunity of owning and displaying the picture."



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