Guy Wildenstein and his brother Alec have been surrounded by more scandal than any other wealthy family bar the Kennedys and the Gettys . The 65 year old billionaire, who is the president of Wildenstein & Co. presides over one of the most prestigious art dealerships in the world. It is a global multi billion dollar business which dates back five generations and is still family run. Wildenstein is now facing charges by French anti-fraud investigators for alleged money-laundering and tax evasion. It is also thought that a charge of theft may possibly be added to the list as the gallery faces half a dozen lawsuits with allegations of fraud, handling of stolen paintings and deception. A number of years ago, the New York Times ran an article about artworks that had been stolen by the Nazis in the 1940’s and discovered recently in the possession of the Wildensteins gallery. It is often said that Georges Wildenstein the grandfather of Guy and Alec openly traded with the Nazi regime. The Times report might have passed with little notice had it not been for Daniel’s (Guy and Alec’s father) comment to the newspaper that because the victims hadn’t come forth at the time they had no rights now. The remark was so incredible, as one well known art dealer stated, it created a second controversy. People had whispered for years about the origins of the Wildenstein collection that, despite being French Jews themselves, they had made money by trafficking in looted Nazi art. The family has always dismissed such talk. “If you think something is ridiculous, why even comment on it?” says Alec”. Their silence has recently led the world to believe, ‘that there is no smoke without fire’ and this seems to all be coming to light now in the murkey world of the Wildenstiens.
The seizure of about 30 works has put another uncomfortable focus on the scandal ridden Wildenstein family. The courts are also seeking answers to questions raised by the Académie des Beaux-Arts lawsuit. ADBA is a prestigious French cultural society that has filed a legal complaint seeking an inquiry into the whereabouts of a missing Morisot painting. The Wildenstein Institute a non profit charity which is run by the family as a research center in Paris has now been raided on several occasions. It is alleged that sculptures and paintings by artists such as Degas, Rembrandt Bugatti and Berthe Morisot have been carted off by the police. The works were reported missing by Jewish families who claimed restitution rights through new laws instituted in the 1990’s. The law helps claim works stolen by the Nazis, from wealthy families. Heirs have had thousands of works returned through family estate settlements.
It has often been said that the Wildensteins are charming sociopaths. They have now reached the end of their dominance as art market leaders with career, credibility and possibly their liberty at stake. The raid and the subsequent legal action resulted from a criminal lawsuit filed in Paris by Mr. Wildenstein’s stepmother, the late Sylvia Roth Wildenstein who alleged that, Guy and Alec, convinced their stepmother that their father died bankrupt to rob her of money from his estate. She accused Wildenstein of tax evasion and money laundering to mask the size of the family fortune by shuffling the ownership titles of Impressionist paintings, including 19 valuable works by Bonnard and storing the art in a Geneva vault as well as other tax havens, far from the reach of the French tax authorities. The Wildenstien brothers are joint American/French citizens with close ties to Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement party. He supported the party as a top donor and chief fund-raiser from the United States. This has led to questions being asked by the French press about the Government’s slowness in acting on this case. It is now thought that the US Government will also begin to question the Wildenstein’s tax status in America. The brothers are known to operate their own private jet which has been used to move Art between The USA, EU and tax havens. The question remains whether the correct paperwork has been generated and the true amount of duty paid on the sale of these valuable pictures.
This troubled family has also suffered a number of personal scandals, including the acrimonious divorce of Alec from Jocelyn ‘Cat Woman’ Wildenstein. Alec had been arrested and thrown in jail, charged with threatening his estranged wife, Jocelyne, with a gun in the bedroom in their family’s Manhattan town house. She was granted a divorce in 1999 after she allegedly found Alec in a compromising position with a 19-year-old model. She sighted “sexual abandonment” and won a hefty settlement which she promptly spent on more plastic surgery securing her nickname as ‘The Bride Of Wildenstein’. Could this family possibly bring more disgrace upon itself? We will see in the months ahead.