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Essl art fire sale earns €60 million

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Wolker (Fenster) by German artist Gerhard Richter. Photo: Christie's
15:29 CEST+02:00
A Christie's auction of art owned by the financially troubled Austrian building supplies chain owner and art collector Karlheinz Essl has raised €60 million (US$75 million).

The Essl Museum of contemporary art desperately needed a bail-out to refinance a loan that Austrian construction tycoon Peter Haselsteiner used to buy part of the collection from its founder.

The decision was taken to sell off some of the more interesting pieces from the 7,000 piece collection, including works such as German painter Gerhard Richter's 1985 canvas "Netz", which failed to sell at its listed price.  

The Richter received a top bid of US$9.32 million, below its reserve price.  A special sale of the piece was made after the auction to an undisclosed buyer for €6.9 million (US$8.76 million).

"I can announce that also the Richter abstract 'Netz' has sold ... after the sale for 5.5 million pounds," said Francis Outred, director of Christie's post-war department.

A spokesman for the Essl museum told Reuters "This is now a means to refinance a big part of the loan,"  adding that many valuable pieces remain in the collection and "this is not a sellout".

Another Richter work "Wolker (Fenster)" [Clouds (Window)] sold for 6.24 million pounds (€7.85 million).

In a statement released by Christie's, Essl said it had not been easy for him to part with the 44 works that were put up for auction, one of which was withdrawn before the auction and three of which did not meet the minimum, including the Richter.

Essl said that he and his wife Agnes "are equally delighted that through the proceeds of this sale, the long-term future of the Essl Museum is now secured".

The money raised by the sale will be used to support Essl's struggling BauMax home improvement chain.

Previously, Essl attempted to sell his collection to the Austrian government, claiming that thousands of jobs were at risk.

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