Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters and billionaire Norman Waitt, co-founder of Gateway computers, have settled a contentious lawsuit that Waitt filed over his purchase of a painting from Peters’ gallery in 2008.
The suit, which centered on a painting by 19th century artist Samuel Seymour, never went to trial. But in August, court records show, Waitt and Peters reached a confidential settlement agreement that resolved the dispute.
Both sides agreed to bear their own attorneys’ fees and other costs, but the dismissal documents provide no additional detail.
Waitt maintained that the painting was worth only one-sixth what he paid and wanted his money back. Peters denied that and contended Waitt was suffering a simple case of “buyer’s remorse.”
Efforts to obtain comment on the settlement Monday from Peters and attorneys on both sides of the case were unsuccessful.
In his state District Court lawsuit, Waitt said Peters told him the painting by Seymour was worth at least $1.2 million. Waitt relied on that assessment when he bought it, but he later learned it was worth no more than $200,000, Waitt alleged. The suit didn’t provide the name of the painting, but The Wall Street Journal has identified it as “Buffalo Standing in a River.”
Waitt also accused Peters of reneging on an unwritten agreement through which Waitt would take paintings home and “after living with them” exchange them if he wished.
Waitt co-founded Gateway with his brother in Iowa and sold his interests in 1991 for an estimated $1 billion. He became an investor in films and other entertainment, including 2002′s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Waitt has had a house near Tesuque.
According to his lawsuit, Waitt grew interested in American Western and Southwestern art and bought more than 50 works from the Gerald Peters Gallery. At issue is Waitt’s February 2008 purchase of the work by the obscure Seymour, who was one of the first Anglos to depict Native Americans on canvas.
Seymour (1775-1825) was a Philadelphia engraver and landscape artist. He accompanied the Western expedition of Stephen H. Long in 1819-1820 and made the earliest known sketches of the Royal Gorge and Pike’s Peak.
Peters, in a statement last year, said the painting that Waitt purchased was “very rare,” noting that Long’s expedition “was the first to include a trained artist to keep a visual record of the vast landscape of the Rocky Mountains they encountered.”
“The gallery has made offers to trade the painting or to take it on consignment, but Mr. Waitt has chosen instead to go to court,” Peters said in 2011.
When Waitt tried to return the painting, the lawsuit stated, Peters refused to take it back or exchange it. Waitt’s lawsuit cited previous instances in which he returned paintings to Peters, including works by Matisse and Thomas Moran. Sometimes, Peters issued him a credit that he used to buy additional artworks, the complaint states.
Peters’ response to the court called Waitt’s claim that the work was worth only $200,000 “preposterous.” It acknowledges the gallery accepted five works of art in trade or return out of “more than 50″ transactions with Waitt but claims these actions did not create a “course of dealing” giving Waitt a perpetual contract right to return all purchases.
Last year, District Judge Raymond Ortiz rejected a motion to dismiss the suit.
Bradford Berge, an attorney for Waitt, said during a hearing that Peters’ gallery “pulled a fast one” on Waitt. But Peters’ lawyer Jere Kathryn Smith said Waitt had an opportunity to do research on the market for Seymour paintings. “He’s alleging that his relationship with Mr. Peters was so special that he should have told him not to buy the painting,” Smith argued.