Investment Firm Founder’s Monet Paintings Burned in Fire: Lawsuit

Four Claude Monet paintings that belonged to an investment firm founder were destroyed in a fire, according to papers that accompany a lawsuit over the works’ insurance that his wife filed last year.

The quartet of Monet paintings may have been worth as much as $45 million, per the filing, which seeks repayment from the insurance company Hiscox. At least one of them had even appeared at auction as recently as 2019.

The lawsuit pits Julie Schulz Halbower, wife of the private investment firm manager Matthew Halbower, against the insurance company Hiscox, which she claimed has “refused” to pay in full for five works destroyed when the Halbowers’ home in Michigan burned down. Hiscox partially paid for three of them, Halbower alleged, and had not paid at all for the other two.

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A painting of a water mill and a tree.

Hiscox, in its response to Halbower, said that the fire resulted in a “total loss” of their home and the art held within, but denied that the insurance agreement necessitated a payout.

Reports of the lawsuit had made their way into the press almost a year ago. The suit was initially filed in in August 2022 in the Circuit Court of the County of Oceana and later moved to the Western District court of Michigan’s Southern Division.

In November of last year, in an Art Newspaper article that featured news of the lawsuit, Robert Read, head of fine art and private clients at Hiscox, referred to the task of determining how much money should be given in the case of lost art works as a “daily challenge,” and said, “Different experts will come up with different recommendations, the skill for art insurers is finding a reasonable number that is acceptable to all parties.”

At the time of the Art Newspaper’s report, it wasn’t clear which works were a part of the Halbower lawsuit, since they were referenced in the initial complaint using vague pseudonyms with no artists listed. But subsequent filings revealed that four of the works were paintings by Monet and a fifth was a canvas by Francis Picabia.

This past September, MLive published a report in which it compared the pseudonyms listed to artworks named by Matthew Halbower and Hiscox representatives in emails submitted as exhibits. La Route de Vétheuil (1880), for example, was named in the suit as “Path,” and Halbower referred to it in an email as “Monet Path.”

In the case of La Route de Vétheuil, Julia Schulz Halbower’s suit argued it was worth $14 million and that, per the insurance agreement, Hiscox was due to pay $16 million upon its destruction.

One of the Monet paintings, Prairie, Ciel Nuageux (1890), had appeared in a 2019 Sotheby’s auction, where it sold for just under $6 million. The Halbowers’ trust had acquired it in 2021, according to documents submitted alongside the suit, which is still pending.

The values Halbower supplied for these Monet paintings make them valuable but not nearly as expensive as others by the Impressionist painter, whose auction record currently stands at $110.7 million.

The Picabia painting, titled Ruines de Passy-les-Tours, effet de soleil (1906), dates to a period when the artist was still working in an Impressionist mode, before he had become associated with the Dada movement, and appears to be valued at a much lower amount than the Monets. Halbower said the painting was worth $325,000 and that Hiscox had paid $333,315 for it.

Representatives for Pentwater Capital Management, Matthew Halbower’s firm, and Hiscox did not response to requests for comment.

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