As records were being broken at contemporary art auctions this week, the hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen privately scooped up a de Kooning “Woman” painting for roughly $137.5 million, adding to the prestige of a personal collection that is fast becoming one of the world’s greatest.
Willem de Kooning’s painting “Woman III,” from 1952-53.
Mr. Cohen bought the 1952-53 oil on canvas, “Woman III,” directly from the entertainment magnate and megacollector David Geffen, who in the last two months has emerged as equally prolific in selling his contemporary masterpieces.
It is the last painting in de Kooning’s “Women” series still in private hands. “This is arguably the most important postwar painting that is not in a museum,” Sandy Heller, an art adviser to Mr. Cohen, said yesterday. “We were in the right place at the right time. It’s our good fortune.”
Mr. Cohen, 50, has amassed a vast collection over the last six years that ranges from a Manet self-portrait to one of Jackson Pollock’s classic drip paintings to Damien Hirst’s infamous shark submerged in a tank of formaldehyde. Only last month he purchased a different de Kooning from Mr. Geffen, a 1955 landscape titled “Police Gazette,” for $63.5 million.
Mr. Geffen, who has been collecting art for decades, is known to have raised about $421 million in four private art sales since the beginning of October. The rapid-fire deals have fueled speculation that he is considering a bid for The Los Angeles Times.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr. Geffen declined to make any comment.
In October he sold Jasper Johns’s “False Start” (1959) to Kenneth C. Griffin, managing director and chief executive of the Chicago-based Citadel Investment Group, for $80 million. More recently he sold Jackson Pollock’s “No. 5, 1948” for $140 million to the financier David Martinez, experts familiar with the transaction have reported. (Last week Mr. Martinez denied through his law firm, Shearman & Sterling, that he had bought the painting, but art world experts have repeatedly reaffirmed that he was the buyer.)
Mr. Heller said the price tag for “Woman III” was $137.5 million and that the sale was brokered by the Manhattan dealer Larry Gagosian. It is unclear whether that price included Mr. Gagosian’s commission. If a commission were still to be added to that figure, “Woman III” could possibly have fetched the highest price on record for a painting. The current known record was set this month when Mr. Geffen sold the Pollock for $140 million.
The female figure was a theme to which de Kooning returned repeatedly. He began painting women regularly in the early 1940s and did so again later in that decade and more seriously in the 1950s. Often they are depicted in an almost graffitilike style, with gigantic, vacuous eyes, massive breasts, toothy smiles and clawlike hands set against colorful layers of paint.
“Woman III,” measuring 68 by 48Ѕ inches, is one of six “Woman” paintings he numbered. The other five are all in world-class museums, all but one in the United States.
“Woman III” comes with a rich history. Mr. Geffen acquired it in 1994 from a Tehran museum in a quiet trade with the help of Doris Ammann, a Zurich dealer, on the tarmac of the Vienna airport. In return, Iran obtained the remnants of a precious 16th-century painted manuscript detailing the ascension of Shah Tahmasp of Persia to the throne.
Because Mr. Cohen is known as a supporter of both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, his purchase is likely to stir speculation about whether “Woman III” will one day go to a museum.
“Steve is a young man; he just recently celebrated his 50 birthday,” Mr. Heller said. “So it’s bit early to say. He has not made any ultimate decision on the fate of his collection.”
By Carol VOGEL, The New York Times