Rich art collection of jailed former CEO to be sold Sunday at Phila. auction house

A rare hand-washed and inked 1965 Picasso print - Lot 7, "Portrait de Femme de Profil" with an estimated value of $50,000 to $80,000 is one of the most prized pieces in the auction. "For a New York house, even, that would be a coup," says Anne Henry, Freeman's modern and contemporary art specialist. "This will have people in the print world very excited," she adds, describing the print as a linoleum cut print, with extensive hand India inking, one of just six rince impressions, experimentally rinsed by the artist.
A rare hand-washed and inked 1965 Picasso print - Lot 7, "Portrait de Femme de Profil" with an estimated value of $50,000 to $80,000 is one of the most prized pieces in the auction. "For a New York house, even, that would be a coup," says Anne Henry, Freeman's modern and contemporary art specialist. "This will have people in the print world very excited," she adds, describing the print as a linoleum cut print, with extensive hand India inking, one of just six rince impressions, experimentally rinsed by the artist. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 11, 2011

Richard Scrushy liked Chagall, and Miro, not to mention Picasso. Or his wife did. Or maybe an adviser.

Whichever, the art collection of the now-jailed former CEO of HealthSouth - known in Birmingham, Ala., as "our Bernie Madoff" - will be auctioned off at 2 p.m. Sunday at Freeman's in Philadelphia, after being exhibited at the auction house through Saturday.

"An infamous name is, I think, helpful in bringing attention to the fine art," said Anne Henry, Freeman's modern and contemporary art specialist. "And the objects speak for themselves."

Proceeds will go to HealthSouth and its shareholders, who won a $3 billion civil judgment against Scrushy in 2009 and have been seizing and selling everything from "the $5 million lake house to the $3 lampshade" to recoup the money, according to shareholder lawyer John Q. Somerville of Birmingham.

It is a coup for Freeman's, the 206-year-old Chestnut Street auction house where chairman Beau Freeman, 73, still wields a gavel, and which last year auctioned off parts of the vast Lehman Brothers collection, including Lucio Fontana's Concetto Spaziale at $1.1 million, a Freeman's record.

In both high-profile collections - disgraced health-care executive and spectacularly failed global financial-services firm - Freeman's finessed its way past the big New York houses to land the consignments.

And now, for the bidding pleasure of the Philadelphia region and the international art world, it presents the "Richard Scrushy Collection," 16 distinguished items, including a rare hand-washed and -inked 1965 Picasso print (estimated value, $50,000 to $80,000); a Renoir lithograph ($50,000-$80,000); another Picasso print, Tete de Femme No. 5, ($30,000-$40,000); a Patrick Hughes installation based on Piet Mondrian's work; a few Donald Roller Wilson chimp paintings ($20,000), and a Chagall ink and wash on paper, L'Echelle Au Ciel, ($50,000-$70,000).

All in all, a pretty good and tasteful haul from a man blamed for thousands of lost jobs and millions in lost investments, now serving a seven-year sentence in Texas. (On Tuesday, Scrushy won reversal of two convictions from his 2006 criminal trial, while a U.S. appeals court affirmed four other counts.)

"We went down last fall and didn't know what we'd be seeing in this big sprawling mansion," said Henry. "We went through it room by room."

The Picasso washed print - Lot 7, Portrait de Femme de Profil - is the biggest prize.

"This will have people in the print world very excited," said Henry. A linoleum cut print, with extensive hand India inking, it is one of just six rincée impressions, experimentally rinsed by the artist. "For a New York house, even, that would be a coup. It blurs the distinction between print and drawing."

How did Freeman's land the right to auction the art of Scrushy, some of which had to be pried from the fingers of his wife, Leslie, who stuck "Leslie Scrushy claims an interest in this" stickers on virtually everything he owned? (Leslie Scrushy stickers were still on three Chagalls and a Miro last week, though her claims are long settled.)

The answer may lie in the soft-spoken, "let's chat some over a cup of tea" Southern charm of John P. Jones, who lives in Birmingham. Educated at New York University, he was hired a few years ago to represent Freeman's in the southeastern United States.

Jones helped run the much-publicized March "yard sale" of items from Scrushy's lavish home in suburban Vestavia Hills, which yielded more than $200,000 (his son-in-law and daughter showed up to buy some of Dad's clothes.)

"I'm from here," Jones said in a phone interview. "That has a lot to do with it, the comfort level. . . . Plus, Freeman's results from Lehman's were right on par." (The Lehman's sale set 50 world records for artists. There is still more Lehman in Sunday's sale, a massive 241-lot auction of modern and contemporary art, including 50 works by Philadelphia favorite Bo Bartlett.)

By the time Jones, Henry, and others saw Scrushy's art, most of the works had been stripped of their "provenance" - the history of where they'd been bought and sold over the years.

"We had no idea what the history was," said Somerville, who won the $3 billion judgment. "They did it to reduce the value of it, so we wouldn't want it, so we wouldn't know what it was, so we wouldn't want to keep it. When we got the art, every single piece had labels missing."

HealthSouth removed Scrushy when he was charged with accounting fraud. He was acquitted, but later convicted of unrelated charges of bribing Alabama's governor for a seat on a state health board. Shareholders secured 25 percent of all liquidation assets ($100 million so far) with the rest going to Scrushy-less HealthSouth.

Without documentation, Freeman's had to embark on an extensive process of authentication, sending the art to artist's boards worldwide to be validated, Jones said.

He first laid eyes on Scrushy's art in a Birmingham hangar warehouse, stumbling upon Neat Piet, Patrick Hughes 1939 3-D installation of oil on folding boards that, viewed from the right angle, creates an illusion of standing inside another gallery showing Mondrian. (Estimated value: $20,000-$30,000).

"I knew instantly it was right," he said. "You just had to be there. It was somewhat shocking to find these pieces in this random facility. These were some very important pieces. It was surreal."

Indeed - in content as well as discovery: A Salvador Dali watercolor, Paradiso, is valued at $40,000 to $60,000.

"I think they [the Scrushys]did have somebody guiding them correctly on some of the pieces," said Jones. "They were very smart buys. Some of it looks like they just liked them. But some were done with an educated eye."

Freeman's Henry says Scrushy was checking his list. "I do think, at least from this group . . . the most common thread is the blockbuster names of the 20th-century artworld, making sure he's got them all represented."

The art, and many non-Scrushy works including a Max Ernst oil on slate grattage titled Deux Oiseaux and valued at between $80,000 and $120,000, can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Freeman's, 1808 Chestnut St.


Also on sale Sunday are 50 works by PAFA-educated artist Bo Bartlett. Read more at www.philly.com/bartlett.


Contact Inquirer staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 215-854-2681 or arosenberg@phillynews.com.

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