Art owned by imprisoned former executive Scrushy is auctioned for $672,790

Posted: May 19, 2011

His art was worth way more than his stuff.

In March, a yard sale held at the Birmingham, Ala., estate of disgraced, imprisoned former HealthSouth chief executive Richard Scrushy netted about $200,000.

But Sunday in Philadelphia, 16 works of art belonging to the man known as the Bernie Madoff of the South - including a rare Picasso and a coveted Chagall - sold for a combined $672,790 during an auction held at Freeman's on Chestnut Street.

The proceeds, after Freeman's cut of 20 percent to 25 percent, will go to HealthSouth and its shareholders, who won a $3 billion civil judgment for fraud against Scrushy, now in a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, after his conviction on unrelated bribery charges.

"It was hugely successful, and we were thrilled about it," said Anne Henry, vice president of modern and contemporary art at Freeman's, which secured the high-profile consignment over New York auction houses.

Many sale prices exceeded estimates set by Freeman's. Among them: Marc Chagall's Lechelle au Ciel, an ink and wash on paper that had a presale estimate of $50,000 to $70,000 but sold for $181,000. A rare Picasso hand-rinsed and inked print, Portrait de femme de profil, valued at $80,000, sold for $97,000.

A Renoir print, Enfants jouant à la balle, sold for $55,000 and a Salvador Dali watercolor, Paradiso, for $73,000.

Local bidders jammed Freeman's and more participated by phone, Henry said of the auction, which included 241 modern and contemporary items from many sources. The total realized was $2,165,500. Works from Scrushy's collection were sold to both local and regional private collectors, as well as galleries and some international bidders.

The auction's success was another feather in the cap for Freeman's, which was praised by shareholder attorney John Somerville for painstakingly authenticating each work after Scrushy had stripped any trace of provenance from the back.

"I don't think we would have gotten a fraction of what we got had they not done the [authenticating]," he said.

Somerville said that there was still more Scrushy art to be auctioned once it had been authenticated, and that shareholders were still looking for assets to satisfy the judgment. Scrushy estimated his worth at $300 million in 2003. "We haven't come close to that," Somerville said.

The 206-year-old auction house was selected by shareholders after its Southern representative, John Jones, consulted on the "yard sale." Freeman's earlier had auctioned much of the Lehman Brothers art collection.

Also on Sunday, American contemporary realist artist Bo Bartlett, who was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, showed some market muscle, as 50 works sold for a total of $323,735.

One painting, Unity, sold for $52,000, exceeding Bartlett's previous auction record. A study for a painting titled Lifeboat, displayed in Freeman's window, sold for $31,000. The collection, from a single unnamed individual, was made up of portraits, studies, and drawings by Bartlett.

Henry said there was tremendous local demand for Bartlett's work, with vigorous bidding into the evening. The Bartlett interest spilled over to other local artists, among them Bill Scott, who sold a work for $18,750, far above its estimate.

"The other Philadelphia artists sort of rode the wave," she said. "It was exciting to see how much demand for his work there is. It's a great affirmation of the artist."

E-mailing from Nepal, where he is traveling with his wife, Bartlett said: "I'm happy for everyone. I'm happy for the collector, for the new owners, for the pieces of art which found new homes, for Freeman's, and for the continuing legacy of Philadelphia art."


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

 

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