Members of Wildenstein Art Dynasty to Stand Trial for Tax Evasion
Guy Wildenstein took over the family business when his father, Daniel, died in 2001. The family has been a mainstay in the art world since 1875, when Nathan Wildenstein founded Wildenstein & Cie gallery in Paris.
The family’s current legal battle dates to the early aughts, when they began reshuffling Daniel’s financial holdings in an effort to minimize the estate taxes due upon his death.
Calculating that the family could owe as much as €550 million ($600 million) in unpaid taxes, fines, and interest, French authorities arrested Guy Wildenstein in October. He will stand trial along with several financial advisers and bank contacts, and will likely have to account for, as the Times notes, “the complex and opaque processes by which some in the international art market use foreign trusts, shell companies, Swiss tax havens, even anonymous loans to museums, to shelter assets.”
Lawyer Claude Dumont-Beghi represented Daniel Wildenstein’s widow, Sylvia, during an eight-year inheritance battle against her stepsons Guy and his brother Alec, who died in 2008. “It is really the first time that a trial like this in France is exploring the use of trusts and determining whether they are legal or illegal,” Dumont-Beghi told the Times. “How did the family build its fortune and empire under this system?”
The Wildenstein’s art world influence has faded to a degree over the years as contemporary art has come into vogue, and interest in Old Masters and Impressionist works has waned. The family name was also tarnished by allegations that they dealt in paintings stolen from Jewish families during World War II. According to Jonathan Petropoulos in The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany, there was even a proposal to turn the gallery into the Institute for German-French Culture and Art.
This past year, the Wildenstein’s attempted to sell a five-story Manhattan townhouse to the Qatari government. The sale fell through, however, and the family is currently suing Qatar over the down payment.