Tech Entrepreneur Sean Parker Ensnared in Dispute Over $5.7 M. Peter Paul Rubens Painting

Claire Selvin


May 4, 2020 12:18pm

Peter Paul Rubens, A Satyr holding a Basket of Grapes and Quinces with a Nymph, ca. 1620.WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Billionaire Sean Parker, a founder of the music platform Napster and the first president of Facebook, is entangled in a legal dispute over a Peter Paul Rubens painting he purchased for his nonprofit foundation for $5.7 million at Christie’s in 2018. The work, which is titled A Satyr holding a Basket of Grapes and Quinces with a Nymph (ca. 1620), is reportedly at the center of a conflict between Parker and Debra L. Turner, who sold the work.

“A consignor sought to cancel a completed auction sale and following repeated attempts to settle the matter amicably, the matter was submitted to arbitration,” a Christie’s spokesperson said. “The arbitrator ruled that Christie’s complied with its contractual obligations and that the successful bidder had lawfully acquired the painting. Christie’s is now seeking to confirm the arbitration award in federal court to conclude this matter, and transfer the painting to the buyer and the significant sale proceeds to the consignor.”

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In a petition to confirm the arbitrator’s ruling filed on April 20 in Manhattan Federal Court, the house said that, following the 2018 sale, Turner “claimed that she had cancelled the sale of the painting, and the foundation asserted that it was entitled to the painting by virtue of its auction purchase.”

The foundation’s attorney said in a letter to the court that it “promptly paid in full” for the painting in 2018 and that it had “purchased the painting without any knowledge that the consignor had attempted to withdraw it.” The letter goes on to say that the foundation intends to “take possession of the painting it purchased in good faith more than two years ago and put it to charitable use.”

Parker’s San Francisco–based organization has four areas of focus: life sciences, public health, civic engagement, and art. Its collection of artworks includes pieces spanning 20 centuries, and it has loaned works to institutions around the world.


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