THE untimely death on January 16 of Robert Noortman, the charismatic Dutch picture dealer who co-founded of the TEFAF Maastricht art fair, inevitably raises questions about the controversial relationship between Noortman Master Paintings and its owners Sotheby’s.
The untimely death on January 16 of Robert Noortman, the
charismatic Dutch picture dealer who co-founded of the TEFAF
Maastricht art fair, inevitably raises questions about the
controversial relationship between Noortman Master Paintings and
its owners Sotheby's.
In June last year Sotheby's announced that they had acquired 100
per cent ownership of Noortman's Maastricht gallery and stock, as
well as its $26m in debts. Although no cash changed hands,
Sotheby's paid Noortman's Luxembourg-based holding company
Arcimboldo an Initial Consideration of 1.95m Class A shares,
equivalent at the time to $49.2m, or 3.2 per cent of Sotheby's
total shareholding. Arcimboldo was also to receive an Additional
Consideration of 486,712 shares if the company achieved "certain
targeted performance criteria" over the next five years. Noortman
Master Paintings thus became a wholly-owned subsidiary of
Sotheby's, with Noortman himself joining the auction house's
International Advisory Board.
Within months of this deal being struck, Robert Noortman was
diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
As ATG reported in November, the acquisition by a major auction
house of one of the leading exhibitors at the trade's TEFAF
Maastricht fair created some difficult conflicts of interest.
During the autumn, in an unprecedented and highly controversial
move, the TEFAF board decided that not only should Noortman retain
his stand at the fair (albeit in a less preferential location), but
that that private sales team of Christie's should also be allowed
to exhibit at Maastricht under the name of King Street Fine
Robert Noortman's passing will not affect Sotheby's and Christie's
presence at this year's TEFAF fair. However, as Johnny van Haeften
of the TEFAF board of trustees intimated in November, it looks
unlikely that the invitation will be extended to Christie's in 2008
and an air of uncertainty now hangs over Noortman Master
The Maastricht gallery's website states that staff are determined
to honour their founder's memory by "continuing dealing in art in
his spirit". At present much of the responsibility for this dealing
falls on the young shoulders of Noortman's son, William, aged just
25, who has rejoined the gallery having worked as a trainee in
Sotheby's Old Master Paintings department in New York.
Noortman's elder son, Timothy, 32, has recently graduated from the
INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, but is not as yet directly
involved in the business.
Noortman has died almost exactly 12 months after he telephoned
Sotheby's chief executive Bill Ruprecht, suggesting a partnership.
At the time, Ruprecht was quoted in the International Herald
Tribune as describing Noortman Master Paintings as "a superb
business" and an opportunity not to be missed.
How much will this assessment be modified now that the business
has lost the charismatic leadership and contacts of its
According to a leading Old Master dealer with close connections to
the Noortman family, Sotheby's are determined to maintain their
trade presence in Maastricht: "The contract will be adjusted, but
no more than that. As soon as Rob learned of his illness he worked
closely with Sotheby's to ensure the future of the gallery.
"He was impressed and touched by how strongly they stood behind
him and supported his decisions. William was being groomed to take
over the business, but he is very young. There are lots of deals
being done, but the gallery does need new leadership."
As for Sotheby's, when contacted by ATG the auction house
intimated that they would soon be making an official statement to
shareholders outlining their new relationship with Noortman Fine
By Scott Reyburn
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