A Kensington art dealer has been ordered to pay £111,000 over the mysterious disappearance of a work of art likened by a judge to a giant “burnt digestive biscuit”.
Esperanza Koren was licensed in 2012 to exhibit and sell artworks for the Barcelona-based gallery Principal Art, including Bosco Sodi’s two-and-a-half-metre wide mixed media abstract painting Untitled in red, 2011.
However when the arrangement came to an end in 2013, the painting was not returned despite the gallery having lined up a buyer.
Ms Koren, whose business is listed at a £4.7 million apartment in Cadogan Square, Kensington, was sued by the gallery owners for €100,000, which she was said to have offered to pay herself for the missing work of art. Judge Alan Saggerson questioned Ms Koren during a trial at Central London county court, asking: “Where is this painting? I want to know where the painting is at the moment. It belongs to them, so where is it?
“It is clear that you agreed to buy this painting for €100,000.”
Ms Koren, representing herself, replied: “At the moment, I don’t know where it is.”
The judge, describing the painting which is made from natural pigment, sawdust, wood pulp, natural fibres, water and glue, said it “would seem to have the appearance of a burnt digestive biscuit”. He added: “This is of value to some in some quarters of the world.” Judge Saggerson later agreed that the piece was “overpriced” at €100,000.
The court heard Ms Koren returned other artworks to the gallery but Untitled in red, 2011 was not among them. She was asked about the missing painting in a WhatsApp exchange with a representative of the gallery, who wrote: “Do you know where it is?”
A buyer had been found in Miami who agreed to the asking price, but Ms Koren responded by saying: “OK I pay you this price. Call me.”
The court heard the gallery has not received any money for the missing piece in the past decade.
Ms Koren denied her message amounted to an agreement to buy the work and said: “They are just WhatsApp messages. I don’t now have the money. You are not forced to buy something if you say you are going to, then you change your mind. At the moment I don’t know where is the painting.”
Judge Saggerson ruled that Ms Koren should pay the gallery owners damages of £86,500 — the equivalent of €100,000 — plus £6,500 interest and £18,000 costs.
“I do find it extraordinary that the defendant affects to have no recollection whatsoever of the whereabouts of the painting, where it ended up and with whom,” said the judge.
“The inevitable inference is that she used it as security for other debts and has lost track of its whereabouts.”