Whitfield Fine Art pull out as Salander-O’Reilly’s multi-million dollar legal problems escalate

A major selling exhibition of Old Master paintings at the Salander-O'Reilly Galleries in New York has been ‘postponed’ after a Bond Street dealer pulled half of the pictures planned for the show.

Clovis Whitfield of Whitfield Fine Art, the major contributor to the show, withdrew his support as embattled dealer Lawrence Salander faces a clutch of lawsuits claiming he reneged on debts of more than $30m.

Just a matter of hours before the October 16 opening night of the dual exhibition titled Masterpieces of Art: Five Centuries of Painting & Sculpture and Caravaggio, around 40 paintings were removed from the gallery at East 71st Street in Manhattan.

A statement on the Whitfield website read: “It is with regret that we have cancelled our involvement in the exhibitions at the Salander-O’Reilly gallery this autumn. Because of the uncertain legal situation in which the Salander O’Reilly gallery finds itself, Whitfield Fine Art felt compelled to withdraw its pictures.

“The private view tonight will not take place and we apologise to those of you who have made a special trip to New York. We look forward to welcoming you to our gallery in London in the future under happier circumstances.”

The latest developments cast doubt on the future of the 31-year-old Salander-O’Reilly gallery, who are members of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America and exhibitors at major international fairs.

In August, the respected American trade journal Maine Antique Digest published a story entitled Lawsuits and Charges of Unpaid Consignment Sales Trouble Salander-O’Reilly Galleries. It listed complaints filed against the gallery for unpaid debts totalling up to $35m.

On October 11 a judge had ordered the New York sheriff to padlock the gallery after Mr Salander, 58, was accused of violating a previous court order forbidding him to remove art from the gallery. For four days, Mr Salander and his employees were barred from entering the building.

In an effort to hold this exhibition, with its sumptuous catalogue featuring paintings by Pontormo, Correggio, Il Parmigianino, Carracci, Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco and Gentileschi, an accord had been met with two of Salander’s creditors, hedge-fund executive Roy Lennox and New York investor Donald Schupak.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Richard Lowe approved the partial settlement in which Mr Salander had agreed to relinquish 642 artworks to an investment vehicle owned by Mr Schupak named Renaissance Art Investors as well as a further six works and his library to Mr Lennox.

Mr Salander – who has said he will eventually repay all debts – was also told to pay for 24-hour security guards stationed outside his gallery to ensure that no pictures were removed.

Mr Salander said the exhibition, which he considered the finest selection of paintings from the Renaissance through to the 19th century ever assembled for sale, would be his last major show and was hopeful the gallery would raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

The show included Apollo the Lute Player sold in 2001 at Sotheby’s for $110,000 when it was catalogued as Circle of Caravaggio. Mr Salander believes the picture is by the Baroque master.