Steve Wynn, the casino magnate and collector of masterpieces, is the owner of “Le Rêve,” Picasso’s 1932 portrait of his mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. It is his favorite painting and which the show at Wynn Las Vegas is named after (he even considered naming the casino and hotel “Le Reve”, which means “The Dream”). He acquired it in a private sale in 2001 from an anonymous collector, who had bought it at auction in 1997 for $48.4 million.
Recently, Wynn decided to sell it and executed a deal to sell it to billionaire collector Steven Cohen for $139 million. Wynn's deal with Cohen would have been $4 million higher than the $135 million that cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder paid in July for Gustav Klimt's 1907 portrait, "Adele Bloch-Bauer I."
The deal was finalized with just the actual exchange of money and art to go, when Wynn accidentally tore a 2 inch gash in the surface of the painting while showing it to friends, David and Mary Boies, Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi, Louise Grunwald, and Barbara Walters.
Wynn suffers from an eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, which affects his peripheral vision and therefore, occasionally, his interaction with proximate objects. Without realizing it, he backed up a step or two as he talked about the piece, “So then I made a gesture with my right hand,” Wynn said, “and my right elbow hit the picture. It punctured the picture.”
There was a distinct ripping sound. Wynn turned around and saw, on Marie-Thérèse Walter’s left forearm, in the lower-right quadrant of the painting, “a slight puncture, a two-inch tear. We all just stopped. I said, ‘I can’t believe I just did that. Oh, sh*t. Oh, man.’”
"The blood drained out of their faces," Wynn said of his guests. He told them, “Well, I’m glad I did it and not you,” before resuming talking about the provenance of his paintings.
Once word of the calamity was leaked, Steve Cohen agreed that the deal was off until the full extent of the damage could be ascertained. Wynn said it could cost up to $85,000 to repair the damage. Wynn’s wife, Elaine, considered it an omen to not part with the painting and said, “I consider this whole thing to be a sign of fate. Please don’t sell the picture.” Later, Wynn called Cohen and told him that he wanted to keep the painting, after all.
"Now the argument is over diminution of value," Wynn said.
"This is an interesting situation," Jerome Bengis, an art dealer and appraiser, said in an interview from his office in Coral Springs, Florida.
"A restored piece naturally is not worth full value," said Bengis, a member of the International Society of Appraisers. "Usually when you have a unique, very expensive piece like this at this level, you value it for a percentage loss. But I doubt anyone can put a percentage on it as to what the value is."
Wynn said he had filed a loss claim with the insurer of the art work, Lloyd's of London, but declined to provide specifics.
"For insurance purposes, we're keeping our mouths shut," Wynn said.
Wynn said he has declined many requests to talk about the mishap until now.
"Talking about it too much would be bad taste," Wynn said.