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Art Collector: 'Burial' Plan a Jest

May 15, 1991|From a Times Staff Writer

LONDON — In a front-page feature story, the London Daily Telegraph reported Monday that Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito, owner of two of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction--Van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" and Renoir's "Le Moulin de la Galette"--might take the works to the grave with him.

But on Tuesday, the London Evening Standard--citing a Japanese newspaper story--reported that Saito, 75, chairman of the Daishowa paper company and a world-class collector, had said that his reputed plans were all a jest.

Saito told the Sankei Shimbun: "This was supposed to be a joke but it was taken seriously in France. I've been telling my children to burn the paintings with my coffin when I die, as my inheritance tax will be tens of billion yen."

The Japanese press, which has been writing about how Saito has become Japan's single-largest taxpayer, reported that his comments, meant to be lighthearted, were taken seriously by foreign art experts--who missed the joke.

The original Telegraph story, which was unclear as to its sources, said Saito intended to put his paintings, purchased in New York last May, into his coffin. It also reported that 99% of Japanese funerals end in cremation.

The Telegraph quoted Michael Gillingham--director of John Sparks, a London Chinese art dealer--expressing shock over Saito's presumed intentions for the paintings, acquired for $82.5 million at Christie's and $78.1 million at Sotheby's. Jacques Sallois, director of Musees de France, also denounced the reported plan.

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