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Ailing Vintner, Art Collector Donald Bryant & Wife Face Mountains of Debt

Ailing Art Collector Faces a Very Modern Problem: Mountains of Debt

Copyright 2019, Dow-Jones/Wall Street Journal

Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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By Kelly Crow
Nov. 18, 2019

St. Louis insurance executive Donald L. Bryant Jr. pumped his fist in Sotheby’s hushed New York saleroom when he won a $37 million Gerhard Richter streetscape six years ago. His third wife, Bettina Bryant, soon felt something closer to dread.

 

Mr. Bryant didn’t know it yet, but he had Alzheimer’s disease, and he didn’t have the cash to pay for the 1968 view of “Cathedral Square, Milan.” The couple had to take out several loans, including one collateralized by 13 works by artists like Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns. They also got an advance from Christie’s in exchange for auctioning off a Willem de Kooning later that year. For Ms. Bryant, a former ballerina and art adviser, it was an education.

 

These days, the whole art world is getting a crash course in leverage—and worries are growing that cases like the Bryants’ could prove a tipping point for banks and borrowers alike amid an increasingly skittish art market.

 

The family’s holdings, at one point valued at more than $300 million, represent one of the world’s greatest private collections of postwar American and German art. They are encumbered with more than $90 million in art-backed loans, and with the 77-year-old Mr. Bryant no longer able to weigh in, Ms. Bryant, 52, has been doing everything she can to make monthly interest payments totaling around $300,000. Last year, she sold a vacation home in Indian Wells, Calif., and she is squeezing as much income as possible from the couple’s Napa Valley winery.

 

She said she has “more than adequate assets” to meet her financial obligations and hopes to keep the collection largely intact. Yet works from the group have turned up for sale at art fairs this fall, including a Christian Schad portrait of a woman in Richard Nagy’s booth at the European Fine Art Fair in New York last month.

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