There is a (not so) rare breed of cynic, that mocks much of "modern art", claiming a 5-year-old could "draw" it. In this particular case, they may have a point.
Whereas high-profile Wall Street divorces typically provide some entertaining grist for the gossip pages - whether it's Ken Griffin's ex-wife demanding alimony payments of $1 million a month (how else would she afford those $500,000 vacations?) or a former Miss Germany suing her hedge-fund hubby for (allegedly) giving her herpes, never before was a (fake) Picasso thrown in the mix of contested assets.
Until now, because to that list we can now add the story of Bill Gross's ex-wife Sue, who pilfered a 1932 Picasso "Le Repos", purportedly worth up to $35 million (for the market test watch tonight's Sotheby's auction) from the couple's Laguna Beach mansion.
"Le Repos" by Pablo Picasso, courtesy of Sotheby's
In the months before their separation, Sue Gross replaced the painting - which had been hanging in the couple's former bedroom - with a copy that she said she herself had painted a few years prior.
And as it turns out, despite having publicly acknowledged his ex-wife's fondness for painting replicas of their art collection, her husband never noticed. That, or it just goes to show what the intrinsic value of a Picasso is, when one's amateur painting wife can draw a replica and the billionaire purchaser will never know...
In any case, the former Mrs. Gross revealed the switcheroo during the couple's acrimonious divorce proceedings, noting that she had already taken the painting after she successfully secured control of the piece in a coin flip used to divide their assets.
Upon learning of his wife's deception, Bill Gross was not pleased: "She stole the damn thing," Gross fumed, according to the New York Post.
The painting, titled "Le Repos", is "an intimate portrait" of Picasso's lover and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. The couple had owned the painting since 2006.
In November testimony, the ex-wife readily admitted to swiping the Picasso, citing an e-mail Bill sent to her where he instructed her to "take all the furniture and art that you’d like."
"And so I did," she said.
But it wasn’t quite that simple, as testimony revealed the ex-wife’s prowess for both painting and artful deception.
"Well, you didn’t take it and leave an empty spot on the wall, though, did you?" lawyers for Bill Gross asked.
"No," Sue responded.
"You replaced it with a fake?" the lawyer asked.
"Well, it was a painting I painted," Sue responded.
"A replication of the Picasso?" the lawyer asked.
"A replication, yes," Sue answered.
"And it had the Picasso signature and everything, didn’t it?" the lawyer asked.
"Not exactly . . ." she said.
"Whose signature was it? Sue Gross?" the lawyer asked.
"I don’t remember how I signed it. Bill will remember because I painted it at home years ago," she said.
"Did you tell him that you took the Picasso?" the lawyer asked.
"No. We didn’t speak for a year and a half," she answered just before the line of questioning turned to a 7-foot, 300-pound rabbit sculpture she also admitted taking.
While Gross admitted that he couldn't tell the difference between the original and the wife-drawn replica, he said he wasn't surprised to learn of the original's fate.
According to court documents, Gross alleged that several other choice items had gone missing from their home shortly after their separation - including a Tiffany clock, 20 bottles of wine, Christmas decorations and a 1,000-pound-statue.
As the Post reminds us, Gross once praised his wife's painting prowess during one of his famous investor letters from June 2015, when he conceded that his wife was "the artist in the family."
"[Sue] likes to paint replicas of some of the famous pieces, using an overhead projector to copy the outlines and then just sort of fill in the spaces," Gross wrote.
"'Why spend $20 million?' she’d say - 'I can paint that one for $75,' and I must admit that one fabulous Picasso with signature 'Sue,' heads the fireplace mantle in our bedroom," Bill continued, referring to a different artwork.
Ah, the irony.
The original Picasso is expected to sell for between $25 and $35 million during a Sotheby's auction at 7pm on Monday. It is unclear if Bill will be (double) bidding on it, to assure its return back to his mansion.