Thursday, February 24, 2011
Billionaire Sues SF Art Dealer
By Kathaleen Roberts
Journal Northern Bureau
SANTA FE — The co-founder of the Gateway computer company contends a painting he bought from Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters is worth only one-sixth what he paid — and he wants his money back.
Peters denies that and contends billionaire Norman Waitt is suffering a simple case of "buyer's remorse."
In a lawsuit filed in 1st Judicial District Court, Waitt says Peters told him the painting by Samuel 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, the complaint states.
Waitt co-founded Gateway with his brother in Iowa and sold his interests in 1991 for an estimated $1 billion. Now an investor in films and other entertainment, including 2002's "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Waitt has houses near Tesuque, in California and other states, but usually lives in South Dakota.
In court documents, Waitt accuses Peters of reneging on an unwritten agreement through which Waitt would take paintings home and "after living with them" exchange them if he wished.
According to the lawsuit, Waitt grew interested in American Western and Southwestern art in 1996 and, over the next 12 years, bought more than 50 works from the Gerald Peters Gallery.
At issue is Waitt's February 2008 purchase of a work by Samuel Seymour, an obscure early 19th-century artist. Seymour was one of the first Anglos to depict Native Americans on canvas.
When Waitt tried to return the painting, the lawsuit states, Peters refused to take it back or exchange it. The lawsuit does not give the painting's title, size or subject matter.
"The Gerald Peters Gallery does not like to have disagreements with clients, however, these types of problems seem to happen during a recession," Peters said in a written statement.
"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."
Calls to Waitt's attorneys went unreturned.
Seymour (1775-1825) was a Philadelphia engraver and landscape artist. According to askart.com, Seymour 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.
Seymour is credited with launching an era of Western painting that concluded with the founding of the Taos Colony of artists.
"Seymour predates the more well-known exploratory artists Karl Bodmer, George Catlin and Alfred Jacob Miller," Peters' statement says.
"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," he continued. "Other than the acquisition made by the gallery, we have never seen another one on the open market.
"This is a very rare painting and it takes a sophisticated collector to understand this painting's importance," he said.
Other works returned
Waitt's lawsuit lists 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 purchase additional artworks, the complaint states.
"If Waitt decided that he did not desire to keep a particular work, he would return it and the Gallery either would issue a refund of the purchase price, or would, subject to Waitt's approval, deliver another work of art of equivalent value," the complaint states.
Waitt's complaint, filed last year by Bradford Berge and Kristina Martinez of Santa Fe's Holland & Hart firm, alleges breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith, breach of express warranty, unfair trade practices and negligent misrepresentation.
Peters' statement says the gallery was holding the painting for another client when Waitt learned about it and insisted the gallery sell him the work.
"Mr. Peters reluctantly allowed the gallery staff to make the sale," the statement said.
"The gallery has offered Mr. Waitt several trades for the painting and offered to sell it on consignment," according to the statement. "A dispute of this nature does not help the value of the painting."
In Peters' response to the court, filed by Joe McClaugherty and Jere Kathryn Smith of Santa Fe, Waitt's claim that the work was worth only $200,000 is called "preposterous." It acknowledges the gallery accepted five works of art in trade or return out of "more than fifty" transactions but claims these actions did not create a "course of dealing" giving Waitt a perpetual contract right to return all purchases.