Published in Nacional number 778, 2010-10-12

Autor: Plamenko Cvitić


Sanader acquires works by Picasso and il Maltese

THE FORMER CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER has been a frequent guest of New York art galleries these past months, and is as of recently the owner of several Pablo Picasso and Francesco Fieravino paintings worth millions of dollars

FINE ART AFICIONADO It is known that Ivo Sanader (with wife Mirjana) owns a valuable collection of Croatian modern art, which he has now expandedFINE ART AFICIONADO It is known that Ivo Sanader (with wife Mirjana) owns a valuable collection of Croatian modern art, which he has now expandedAlthough he has not had a steady job in over a year, former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader clearly faces no financial distress. Over the past few months he has been seen in some New York art galleries, and he recently expanded his rich collection of art with two costly Picasso canvases. Besides in Pablo Picasso, Sanader has also shown an interest, and probably also purchased, some of the works of Maltese baroque style painter Francesco Fieravino. It all supports the notion that the former Prime Minister has financial means of unknown origin abroad, which has been brought into connection with numerous cases of corruption that are currently being investigated by the Croatian police and by USKOK (The Bureau for the Prevention of Corruption and Organized Crime). Rumours of Sanader's acquisitions of works of art have made the rounds of the political and diplomatic scenes in Zagreb for some time now, and it could be concluded that they started about the same time that the Croatian State Attorney's Office sought the assistance of the competent US and European bodies in the investigation into the origin of Sanader's assets. Claims of Sanader's purchases of works of art have been given further weight by the fact that well known international art dealer David Nahmad confirmed for Jutarnji list daily reporter Vanja Nezirovic last weekend that he had met with Ivo Sanader in Monte Carlo, the trendy hot spot of the affluent.

AND WHILE HE DID CONFIRM his recent meetings with the former Croatian prime minister, the 63-year-old David Nahmad told the Croatian reporter that he had not done business with him, which could be partly true - according to Nacional's information Sanader purchased valuable paintings a few months ago at the New York gallery run by Nahmad's son, whose assessment was that this previously unknown buyer from Croatia clearly had lots of money and desire to purchase some more paintings, and recommended him to his father David. To impress Sanader, David Nahmad invited him to Monte Carlo, the European hotspot of the rich and famous in which the Nahmad family lives and from where it manages wealth estimated at several billion euro. Besides, if the purchase of art was not behind it all, it is hard to imagine any other reason why the world's best-known art dealer would meet with the former prime minister of a small European country.

ON THE ART SCENE the Nahmad family is one of the best-known names in the international high-cost art market. The chief job of the descendants of a Syrian banker who have lived in Monte Carlo for decades is to augment the family wealth, estimated at several billion US dollars, through speculative investment in commodities and money markets. But the Nahmad's are even better known for a hobby that also wins them massive profits - the purchase and sale of art and one of the world's largest art collections, located in massive and specially guarded vaults in a building near the Geneva airport. In these vaults of a total floor area of 1,400 square metres the Nahmad's have a collection of some five thousand paintings, but what exactly is kept there is a jealously guarded secret that the otherwise very talkative David Nahmad has never publicly discussed. The only information made public is that their Geneva treasury holds what is probably one of the largest private collections of the works of Pablo Picasso - three hundred of his works that all told are worth about a billion US dollars. The remainder of the family collection of several thousand paintings is allegedly worth about four billion US dollars. And while, unlike other art dealers, the Nahmad's do not have the custom of presenting paintings in their possession at trendy galleries around the world, with the exception of the family base in Monte Carlo and the treasury in Geneva, the Nahmad's do, however, own two office-galleries - one in London, run by Nahmad's nephew, and one in New York, operated by Nahmad's son. It was in fact in the latter, situated in the heart of Manhattan, that the former Croatian prime minister most likely first came into contact with the famed art dealer. The Nahmad's, a family of Sephardic Jews, draw their roots from the city of Aleppo in northern Syria. Their great grandfather was a banker there for decades, and in 1947 the entire family moved to Beirut, where David Nahmad was born, after which the Nahmad's moved to Milan in 1960.

The first to show an affinity for works of art was David's fifteen year older brother Giuseppe, who started spending the family money, besides on expensive automobiles, on the purchase of works of art. He quickly assembled a large collection of valuable paintings, but when he ran out of money in 1963, he decided to sell some of the paintings and took on the services of his two younger brothers Ezra and David as dealers. At the time still teenagers, the younger Nahmad brothers proved themselves capable merchants, and after their initial success continued in the dealer business. Since they spoke French fluently they started travelling to Paris and made cheap purchases of works by Picasso, Chagall, and Miro, transporting them to Milan and selling them there at twice their purchase prices. Besides in Europe, in the 1970s the Nahmad brothers slowly started developing their art dealer business on other continents, especially in North and South America. Although the youngest brother, David Nahmad slowly took the dominant role in the family, being the most socially adept of the brothers and speaking seven languages. Besides his great knowledge of art, the success of Nahmad's dealings lay in the fact that he skilfully handled differences in currency exchange rates and prices between the European and American art markets. Besides their brokerage, the Nahmad's spent decades enlarging their private collection of art, in the process of which they allegedly kept in mind that by speculative purchases of paintings by certain artists at higher prices they simultaneously increased the value of the other paintings by that artist they already owned.

AND WHILE MANY INTERNATIONAL collectors keep their art in private museums and galleries, the Nahmad's keep the vast majority of their valuable assets far from the public eye - in very well guarded vaults located in Switzerland, not far from Geneva airport, and nobody actually knows of exactly how many artists they own works. The only exception to the rule that they do not publicly display the paintings they have purchased are two family galleries - one at a prestigious London address in Mayfair is operated by Helly Nahmad, nephew of David Nahmad, and the other, in Manhattan, is run by Nahmad's 33-year-old son Helly. Ever since Giuseppe, the oldest of the Nahmad brothers, withdrew from the family business, allegedly on account of poor health, David Nahmad has managed practically all of the family business related to the sale and purchase of art. On the art scene David Nahmad is known as being powerful, merciless and avaricious, and when buying he usually sticks to the rule that he only deals in "tried and true" artists, meaning he is not at all interested in contemporary art, which he considers overpriced and - phony. He is well known for his saying that "Monet and Picasso are like Microsoft and Coca-Cola," and is probably best known for his "buy and hold" strategy - once he acquires a painting he is willing to store it in a vault and not resell it for years, even decades, until it reaches a price at which he is willing to sell. Some of his must successful deals were for example when he purchased Picasso's Jacqueline in May of 1995 at a Sotheby's auction for 2.6 million US dollars, and sold it in New York in 2007 at ten times that price - for 30.8 million dollars. On one occasion Nahmad managed to sell a Modigliani painting he had purchased in London for 18 million dollars five months later for 30 million.
PRIVATELY, DAVID NAHMAD values the works of Pablo Picasso above all, and his collection of some three hundred paintings by the renowned artist is probably the largest private collection outside of the one owned by the Picasso family. Nahmad's fascination with Picasso has allegedly on several occasions led him to the bizarre situation of buying back a painting he had already once owned and sold. If the rumour that the former Croatian prime minister is in fact as of recently the owner of a Picasso painting is true, it is almost certain that someone in the Nahmad family participated in the sale.

AND IT WOULD ALSO BE one of the safest acquisitions, because Picasso's do not lose value, and continue to grow, and they can be sold relatively quickly - of there were no interested collectors around the world, it is hard to imagine that David Nahmad would not show an interest in buying. Of course, many would be interested in the prices of these paintings, but in the case of Picasso there are no rules, other than that their prices are measured in millions of US dollars. Some of the "cheaper" Picasso paintings were available these past years for five to ten million US dollars, but some have been sold for dizzying prices. In 2004 Picasso's painting Boy with a Pipe was sold for 119.9 million US dollars, and in 2006 his painting Dora Maar au Chat was sold for 102 million dollars. According to Nacional's sources, the former Croatian prime minister, besides in works by Picasso, is interested, and may have purchased, the less costly works of Maltese painter Francesco Fieravino, better known as Francesco Maltese. Some of his less highly regarded works can be found on the art market for as little as a few hundred thousand euro, although much more needs to be set aside for more valuable works.

THE HELLY NAHMAD GALLERY is run by David Nahmad's nephew, named, like his son, HellyTHE HELLY NAHMAD GALLERY is run by David Nahmad's nephew, named, like his son, HellyAS FAR AS THE POSSIBILITY that former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader recently added some of the world's most prized artists to his art collection is concerned, the experience of London art dealer Rory Howard is interesting. Over the past few years he has done a lot of business with Russian oligarchs and explains the passion of the nouveau riche for top works of art. "Artists like Picasso and Warhol are major brands, and their works are an internationally recognised currency. The other value lies in impressing anyone if there is a Picasso hanging from a wall in your house." Stanislav Shekshnia, author of the book The New Russian Business Leaders, has a somewhat simpler answer. "Security. I have a friend, a Russian businessman, who has for years now spent a third of his income on valuable paintings. He explained to me that he did so because paintings are the easiest thing to take with you if you have to get out of somewhere fast."

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