Beit painting sold to Ukrainian-born billionaire

Britain’s richest man Leonard Blavatnik buys Beit painting in private Christie’s deal

Britain's richest man, Ukranian-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, is believed to have bought a painting from the Beit Collection at Russborough House in a private deal brokered by Christie's.

Christie's, which is selling nine paintings from Russborough for the Alfred Beit Foundation at auction, also provides a private sales service.

A painting called The Cabinet of Physical Sciences by 18th century French artist Jacques de Lajoue, got an export licence from the National Gallery of Ireland in March.

An Taisce said the export licence was “obtained by Christie’s” for the Alfred Beit Foundation and they believe the purchaser was Mr Blavatnik.

He is understood to have paid over €500,000.

The painting shows scientific instruments in cabinets. It was commissioned in 1734 for Parisian collector Joseph Bonnier de la Mosson.

Top of rich-list

It was part of the renowned art collection owned by Sir Alfred Beit which he brought to Ireland and was, until recently, on display at Russborough House unlike the paintings being sold at auction.

The Alfred Beit Foundation has declined to comment except to say that it was “very satisfied” with the sale. A spokeswoman for the London auction house said: “Christie’s does not discuss private sales.”

Mr Blavatnik owns 15 Kensington Palace Gardens, London home of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit before they bought Russborough House and moved to Ireland in the 1950s.

Mr Blavatnik bought the 2,508sq m (27,000sq ft), 15-bedroom house for a reputed £41 million (€57.3m) in 2004 and is spending millions on an elaborate refurbishment.

The Beits refurbished the house in the 1930s to showcase their world-class art collection. The painting The Cabinet of Physical Sciences was over the fireplace in the library at the house and the room was entirely redesigned by the Beits – in a Late Baroque Bavarian Rococo style, to showcase the painting.

The Beits even installed a parquet floor with a similar star design to the floor in the painting.

Mr Blavatnik’s architects last year submitted documents to the planning department at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea with a “historic decoration report/proposal for the principal rooms” at 15 Kensington Palace Gardens.

They quoted from a Country Life magazine [see picture] from 1939 which featured the house after its redecoration by the Beits, and noted the design of the library "all originated with Sir Alfred's buying, from Messrs Wildenstein, Jacque de Lajoue's painting of an alchemist in a Rococo laboratory."

According to an architectural survey of the Crown Estate (on which the house is built) in 1973, the library in 15 Kensington Palace Gardens “was originally designed round J de Lajoue’s painting of an alchemist, but now somewhat unconvincing without the picture”.

It is believed that Mr Blavatnik was keen to buy the painting to restore the room to how it looked during the Beits’ residency in the 1930s.

Mr Blavatnik (58) was born in Odessa and grew up in Moscow. He was at the top of the 2015 Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated £13.1 billion.

He is chairman of Access Industries Inc which owns, among other businesses, the Warner Music Group, and has extensive property interests.

Blavatnik is believed to be one of the world's biggest art collectors. In 2013, Art News listed him as one of the world's "most active art buyers".

Forbes magazine recently described him as "a prolific art collector". He is believed to bought Mark Rothko's painting Orange, Red,Yellow for $86.9 million (€76.5m) at a Christie's auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art in new York in 2012 – a record price for the artist at auction.

Before he acquired 15 Kensington Palace Gardens, the house was the London residence of the Iraqi ambassador.

‘Billionaires’ row’

The house was built in the 19th century for

George Moore

a lace manufacturer.

Kensington Palace Gardens, beside Kensington Palace, is dubbed “billionaires’ row” and is London’s most expensive street.

As well as private homes currently or formerly owned by some of the world's wealthiest people, including Lakshmi Mittal, Bernie Ecclestone, Roman Abramovich, the Sultan of Brunei and Mr Blavatnik, the street is home to various embassies and ambassadors' residences.

The freehold on the houses is owned by Queen Elizabeth through the Crown Estate.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times