Hedge fund billionaire, his wife are suing to take back ‘Femme Fatale’ Renoir from auction

A Boston hedge fund billionaire and his wife are suing to claim the grandfather portrait of a painters wife that was in the hands of Philadelphia’s city-owned Art Museum and has been on loan to the museum since it was purchased by the family in the 1920s.

Peter Strauss and his wife Sue have been on a mission to move the portrait of Judith II, the wife of the 19th-century Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir, after the Philadelphia museum reportedly entered into an agreement to sell the painting to a private collector for $80 million in 2018. According to the lawsuit filed this month in Boston district court, Peter Strauss was “heavily involved” in the negotiations and was one of many family members invited to be involved in the decision.

In 2018, NBC reported that Peter Strauss, who serves as chairman of Exeter Industries, a Boston-based financial and industrial consulting firm, met with representatives of an overseas collector at one of his homes in Texas, where the couple was vacationing. According to a family member familiar with the situation, a similar meeting in Boston or New York was also scheduled, but the scuttlebutt was that “Mr. Strauss didn’t show up.”

Peter Strauss and his wife Sue got a taste of the art world, however, in 2016 when the Philadelphia Museum of Art declined to sell the painting to an unnamed private collector, citing objections from the Philadelphia Foundation, which manages and owns the foundation’s art collection.

In 2017, when I interviewed Peter Strauss for The New York Times Magazine, the art investor expressed his concern that both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the family may be misinterpreting the agreement about the sale. He referred to a chain of email correspondence with a family member who was included in the negotiations and said that he did not support the sale of the painting and that he did not appreciate the recent transfer of the painting from the museum’s in-house care. He said he wanted the painting returned.

In January, after he learned of the potential sale, Strauss went on record about his opposition and said that he was concerned that those who did not want to sell the painting were considering selling it to a private collector who wasn’t willing to share it.

Peter Strauss was included in the deal by virtue of his name and his wife’s right to inherited the painting in her will. According to Philadelphia Magazine, Peter Strauss served as trustee of the Philadelphia Art Museum between 1984 and 1990 and served as chair of the museum’s board of trustees between 1995 and 2000.

As The New York Times reported at the time, the sale of the Renoir was part of a larger series of transactions between the museum, the foundation and the private collector over the last decade, in which one of the paintings that was offered up for sale in 2018—a painting by the painter Gustav Klimt—was also returned to the foundation.

Peter Strauss could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

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