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Leon Black, a billionaire financier and chief executive of the private equity firm, Apollo Global Management, announced his acquisition of Phaidon Press, a publisher of fine art books. Black, who paid an undisclosed amount for the company, bought Phaidon from the British businessman, Richard Schlagman.

Phaidon is one of premier publishers of books on the visual arts along with Taschen and Assouline. The company has collaborated with such artists as Ai Wei Wei, Nan Goldin, and Stephen Shore and they publish everything from children books to cookbooks to collector’s editions that often come with signed prints or specially-commissioned pieces of art. On Phaidon’s site there is a statement from Black saying, “We having greatly admired Phaidon and the important contribution the company has made to art and culture. We are impressed with how Richard Schlagman has built the business and the Phaidon brand under his ownership over the last two decades. My family and I look forward to supporting the future of the company, including through the ongoing development of its publishing program, further geographic expansion, and the launch of digital products.”

Black, who is rumored to have paid $120 million for Edvard Munch’s The Scream earlier this year, is one of the country’s most prominent art collectors. In May, Black and his wife announced a $48 million contribution to the new visual arts center at Dartmouth College. An alumnus of the school, Black and his family also included a commissioned sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly in the gift.

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Reinhold Wuerth, a German billionaire who turned a family-owned screw wholesaler into a global company, paid more than $70 million to buy a Holbein painting, beating a bid from the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt.

Wuerth purchased the painting from the heirs of the princes and landgraves of the state of Hesse, an aristocratic family descended from Charlemagne, according to an e-mailed statement sent today by Britta Fischer Public Relations on behalf of the Wuerth Collection. The Staedel Museum, where the Holbein has hung on loan since 2003, said in a separate statement that its own final offer of 40 million euros ($57 million) was rejected.

Christoph Graf Douglas, the art dealer who negotiated the sale, said the price was more than 50 million euros, the highest ever paid for an artwork in Germany. He declined to name the final sum because of an agreement between the buyer and sellers.

“It is the most important painting sold in Germany since World War II,” Graf Douglas said by telephone from Frankfurt. “I had other willing buyers but they wanted to take it out of Germany, which wasn’t allowed. I could probably have sold it for more than 100 million euros if it wasn’t barred from export.”

Interested buyers included the J. Paul Getty Museum, he said.

Protective Cloak

The 1525-8 oil painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, “The Madonna With the Family of Mayor Meyer,” was painted on commission for the Basel mayor Jakob Meyer zum Hasen. The Meyers are portrayed at the feet of the Madonna, sheltered under her cloak. It belonged to the family for almost 100 years.

“It is the transition from the wonderful German late Gothic to the Renaissance,” Graf Douglas said. “When you stand in front of it you see how mystical, wonderful it is.”

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Two French men, both Jewish, both powerful, both wealthy, both part of the art elite, both with strong ties to the United States, one a friend of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the other a potential rival – and both in trouble with the law, in America and in France.  It’s enough to wag even the most apathetic of tongues, and it is, especially in Paris, where some claim both cases smack of anti-Semitism and political conspiracy, while others call it a cautionary tale about the arrogance of power.

This past week, while Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, celebrated the near-collapse of the case against him for alleged rape of a chambermaid at New York’s Sofitel hotel, Guy Wildenstein, scion of the Wildenstein art dynasty, was charged with possession of stolen property and fraud. For Wildenstein, the charges are the latest in a series of criminal investigations and lawsuits that have followed him over the past six years, in which numerous works of art have been seized from the family holdings, which some estimate to be worth $4-5 billion, and possibly even more. Both Strauss-Kahn, or DSK, as he is known, and Wildenstein are Jewish.  Both have homes in the USA and Paris.  But where Strauss-Kahn was a strong contender to oppose Sarkozy in the 2012 French Presidential elections, Wildenstein is a close friend of Sarkozy and a founding member of his political party, the UMP.

The Intrigue: Art Power Meets Political Power Meets Billionaire Wealth

But the connections don’t stop there.  DSK’s wife, the American-born journalist Anne Sinclair, is also the granddaughter of legendary Paris art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who – back in the day — worked closely with Wildenstein’s own grandfather, Georges.  (The Wildenstein art dynasty extends back five generations with the founding of  the Wildenstein Gallery in Paris  in the 1870s.) The two galleries – Rosenberg and Wildenstein – were among the world’s most powerful during the early-to-mid 20th-century, and together represented the works of Pablo Picasso.  Sinclair’s art collection, inherited from her mother, is to some extent shrouded in secrecy; and while the contents of the collection are not entirely known, estimates its worth at “tens of millions of euros.” (In truth, it may well be worth significantly more than that, given the number of Picasso works alone – possibly reaching into the billions, or near it.)

Now, here’s where the story gets tricky.  ArtInfo also reports that “Much of Paul Rosenberg’s collection was looted by the Nazis, and, though the family has obtained restitution for several works, it is thought that many more have not been returned to their rightful owners.”  Match this with the fact that, along with the lawsuits and criminal investigations plaguing Wildenstein, some Jewish families allege that the Wildensteins – though Jewish themselves – cooperated with Nazi officials from time to time.  And many of the lawsuits against Guy Wildenstein have been filed by the families and descendants of  French Jews,  who contend that works left in the care of the Wildenstein family for safekeeping during WWII still remain in the Wildenstein vaults.  In January of this year, French police raided the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, seizing various works by Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, and others, which Jewish families  and others claim were stolen (or at least, should have been returned to them, and were not).    Were any of these works once in the Rosenberg collection? Are they part of what should have been Sinclair’s inheritance?

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he era of the world-class museum built by a single philanthropist in the tradition of Isabella Stewart Gardner, John Pierpont Morgan Jr. and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney may seem to have passed, but Alice L. Walton is bringing it back.

Yet her mission is unlike those of her predecessors, or of more recent art patrons like Ronald S. Lauder and his Neue Galerie. They set out to put great works on display in cultural capitals like New York and Boston. Instead, Ms. Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art — the first major institution dedicated to American artists in 50 years, to be housed in a building more than twice the size of the current Whitney Museum of American Art — seeks to bring high art to middle America here in this town of 35,000 that is best known as the home of Wal-Mart.

Ms. Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart’s founder, Sam Walton, has worked on the museum for nearly a decade, but has said little about it in public until now. In a recent interview at Town Branch, her family home here, she said she wanted to turn Bentonville into an international destination for art lovers when the museum opens on Nov. 11. At the moment the most significant nearby cultural attractions are two hours away: a museum of Western and American Indian art in Tulsa, Okla., and, in the other direction, the country-music magnet of Branson, Mo.

“For years I’ve been thinking about what we could do as a family that could really make a difference in this part of the world,” said Ms. Walton, who is 61. “I thought this is something we desperately need, and what a difference it would have made were it here when I was growing up.”

The 201,000-square-foot museum was designed by the Boston architect Moshe Safdie for a site around two ponds on 120 acres of former Walton family land. Named for the nearby Crystal Spring, the museum will display top-flight works by American masters from the colonial era to the present, with the largest concentrations coming from the 19th and 20th centuries. Although the collection — currently about 600 paintings and sculptures — is still small by the standards of big museums, it is growing at a steady clip.

“She has not just been concentrating on what could be perceived as the greatest hits in American art,” said John Wilmerding, an art historian and professor at Princeton University, who has been advising Ms. Walton for seven years and is now on the Crystal Bridges board. “She has collected the work of some of these artists in depth,” quietly amassing substantial bodies of work by figures like Martin Johnson Heade, Stuart Davis, George Bellows and John Singer Sargent.

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