July, 2012

Back again & the story so far.

The most recent event in Tita’s endless odyssey of contradictions followed her sale of The Lock, the inherited Constable painting which she claimed only to be selling due to her shortage of liquidity resulting from Spain’s refusal to pay her for the ‘magnanimous’ loan of her pictures to the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. Presumably she assumed the threatened sale of such an iconic, if rather boring painting would loosen Spain’s purse strings. However, the Spanish government remained steadfast. But Tita soon forgot her claimed liquidity crisis and long before the cash from the sale could possibly have arrived in her coffers, was soon celebrating her financial sponsorship of an archaeological project in Costa Rica and rebranding of herself as, would you believe, a philanthropist!

The sale itself was in fact rather a damp squib. For after much pre-publicity on the part of Christies to convince everyone that collectors would be falling over themselves to bid the paintings price up to stratospheric levels, there turned out to be only one buyer and the only reason it went for the ‘claimed’ £20 million (hammer price) was that according to the auction house, the work was guaranteed to sell courtesy of a third party ‘irrevocable bidder’ that dealers identified as one of Christie’s Russian clients and the UK press refused to mention. Newsweek proved more honest and even quoted Richard L Feigen, the NY based dealer as saying ‘The Constable sold for the price of a second-tier Warhol. It’s ridiculous!’ (A Rothko asking price at Basle Art Fair was $78 million while the Munch pastel drawing on paper went for $120 million at auction.)

Beatrice B Shoemaker gave a more informed, if damming explanation: ‘Third-party guarantees have been distorting the market for some time – conflict of interest being an unknown concept in these parts. The Constable actually sold on its putative reserve. Although Christies boasted this as the best ever Old Master Painting sale, the actual results show that over 50% of the lots sold (hammer price) at or below the low estimate…Current estimates reflect vendors aspirations. The 25% buyers premium is included in the published price, distorting perception, since the vendor gets the hammer price minus whatever fees he managed to negotiate (10/20%)…So next time around, at the time of the resale, the collector naturally wants to recoup his original costs within the reserve. Result: ever higher figures but (with a few spectacular exceptions) illusory profitability for the punters. Cheers!!!!’… In my book Heini Thyssen is quoted as saying: ‘The art business is the dirtiest business in the world.’

Francesca (Habsburg nee Thyssen) criticised Tita for selling the picture but didn’t feel sufficiently concerned to make a bid, while Norman Rosenthal pretended it was the reason he was resigning from The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum board. The more likely reason was in fact the loss of the museums sponsor, Caja Madrid and its lack of any replacement.

Meanwhile, back in Germany ThyssenKrupp’s shares continued their relentless downhill slide as steel demand slumped and their Brazilian and North American plant ‘investments’ spiralled. Rumours of buyers came and went while the organisation finally admitted it was considering withdrawing from the steel business altogether. Their share price fell even faster following the news that ThyssenKrupp, having forgotten one of the first rules of business and ‘shat in their own nest’, had been found guilty of the price fixing of railway lines in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Presumably these were the same railway lines that had been found to contain hairline cracks and had to be replaced by a cheaper and better quality Polish equivalent.

Down the road in Monaco the family firm was suffering from less tangible problems. ‘Baron’ Heini Junior’s Asset Management lost 350 million Euros via Bernie Madoff but more importantly having made the same mistake as ThyssenKrupp by also shitting in his own nest, Georg had accepted 34 million Euros in Monogasque investment in Bernie’s little financial pyramid. Well it turns out that he did so without the appropriate license which not only means that he will be obliged to pay the money back, presumably with interest but could also face five years in the Monaco slammer.

All this appears to have had a positive effect on sales of my book, in both the UK and Germany. And Spain? Well Spain is Spain and much as I love it and the Spanish people, working with the publisher Groupo Planeta has not been easy and I thus find it somewhat predictable to discover that they had been under considerable pressure from Tita to curtail pulication of our book and replace it with hers. As this is the publishing company whose other Thyssen book ‘Carmen Cevera La Baronesa’ accused her mother of being a madam and Tita’s sexual status being perhaps more professional than amateur one presumes that will also shortly be ‘out of print’. All this without even a hint of litigation. Anyway the latest news is that they are scheduled to be bringing out yet another Thyssen book in October which is, according to Tita, Heini’s official memoirs. Well it was certainly not something that he wrote himself, so God knows who did.

And finally, ever since I pointed out to a very grumpy and highly dismissive Francesca that some of my family heirlooms were decorated with a coat of arms that bore an uncanny resemblance to that of the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s, the historian, Rosemary Thorburn has continued to research my family history. Well I can now reveal that the Hungarian Baroness Ottilie von Schossberger was my great (step) grandmother and that the Schossberger girls married into both the Bornemisza and Batthyany families. The former being where both my and the Thyssen’s coat of arms came from. It also gives me as much right (if any such thing actually exits) as any of the existing Thyssen-Bornemiszas to adopt the title of ‘Baron’ David R L Litchfield. If only this family history had been known in 1939 things might have turned out somewhat differently for the Bornemiszas, Batthyanys and Thyssens, for the Schossberger’s were Jewish!

Scloss Schossberger

Schloss Schossberger

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