Is there value in art collecting? Of course - just ask a corporate banker

As we originally reported here, Christie's is set to auction the world-renowned art collection of bankrupt financiers Lehman Brothers, next month (September 29).

So prestigious was the collection that Lehman would often take its important guests on a tour around the artworks at its headquarters in Canary Wharf, London.

But two years after declaring bankruptcy and reported debts of $600bn (£376bn), it's now hoped that works by the likes of Lucian Freud and Gary Hume will take a minute £2m (or over $3m) chunk out of the defunct company's financial liabilities.

The good news - relatively speaking - is that art has already proven itself a strong asset for Lehman Brothers. The firm's September London sale follows two successful events in Philadelphia and New York; the latter scraping together $1.34m towards the firm's debts.

Currier's hand-coloured lithograph of New York City sold for $12,500
- five times its estimate at Lehman Brother's New York debt relief
auction (You can read our full report here)


Highlights in NY included Georges Schreiber's view of a Brooklyn Bridge sunset, which sold for five times its pre-sale estimate, realising $20,000. And Louis Lozowick's lithograph, Hanover Square, easily tripled its $8,000 top estimate to bring $26,200.

Among the most iconic works in Lehman's collection were various pieces by Roy Lichtenstein. His I Love Liberty, depicting the iconic Manhattan statue, doubled its pre-auction valuation and eventually sold for $49,000.

And Lehman Brother isn't the only bankrupt financier to turn to the art markets to alleviate its woes. An impressive collection of Futurist art auctioned by Alitalia, Italy's insolvent national carrier, raised €1.2m earlier this year.

The world's most valuable
artwork, Alberto Giacometti's
sculpture, L'Homme qui
marche I was sold for
$104.5m by Commerzbank

So, collectible art has certainly proved itself as a solid investment for beleaguered bankers.

But these sales also reveal a long-concealed truth: that financial corporations have been tactfully relying on alternative art investments since the 1950s.

Take the World Record price achieved by Alberto Giacometti's sculpture, L'Homme qui marche I. The work sold for way beyond its £12m-18m guide price to bring a final £65m ($104.5m), becoming the world's most valuable artwork. And the seller? None other than Commerzbank.

And among UK banks, it is the majority state-owned RBS which has the largest collection, numbering 2,200 pieces, according to the UK's Telegraph newspaper. RBS reportedly acquired the portfolio following its takeover of Natwest in 2000.

Prized works in RBS's collection include pieces by the German-born British artist Frank Auerbach. Auerbach has also proven himself a solid asset at various art auctions this year, most recently at Bonhams' £2.8m British art sale in June.

Meanwhile, other high profile art collectors include HSBC, Flemings and Barclays - which now occupies Lehman Brothers' old Times Square HQ - each of which have reportedly built distinguished collections.

It appears that the world's top bankers know what collectors and alternative investors realised long ago: that if you're shrewd and make the right decisions, art and collectible investments can be strong and resilient assets in times of economic downturn.


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