Ruling due in battle over Wildenstein fortune

The Guardian 15 May 2009
By Angelique Chrisafis

The name Wildenstein belongs to one of the art world's richest dynasties. Yet it became known in celebrity magazines for the extensive plastic surgery carried out on one member of the clan. 

But years after the family suffered public embarrassment over the divorce of the facelift devotee, Jocelyne Wildenstein, another long courtroom battle has driven it apart. The elderly widow of the art collector Daniel Wildenstein has battled for eight years through the Paris courts to secure rights to her inheritance, which she said her stepsons had tricked her out of.

With the latest Paris ruling expected next week, Sylvia Wildenstein, 76, is continuing her fight to lift the lid on the scope of the family's fortune and art collection, thought to be one of the largest private collections in the world. It has been described by one US art expert as an "Aladdin's cave" of hundreds of works ranging from Renoir and El Greco to Picasso and Monet.

"I knew something was wrong when they tried to take away my horses," Sylvia Wildenstein told Le Point magazine this week as she recalled the moment eight years ago when she realised her step-sons were trying to keep her away from her share of the fortune.

Daniel Wildenstein died in 2001. At the time his family owned a vast collection of art and property around the world. Sylvia Wildenstein, born Sylvia Roth, had been married to Daniel Wildenstein for more than 20 years, but her stepsons persuaded her to sign away her inheritance, telling her she would face crippling tax bills. Wildenstein sued and in 2005 a Paris court ruled that the document she had signed was void.

The family's affairs have only been revealed in court once before when Jocelyne Wildenstein found her husband Alec, Daniel Wildenstein's son, in bed with a model. Their divorce proceedings in the late 1990s revealed lavish spending. Alec, who died last year, lampooned his wife's obsession with plastic surgery.

Sylvia Wildenstein's Paris lawyer, Claude Dumont Beghi, said she was still fighting a legal battle to establish the truth about the family estate. Lawyers for Daniel Wildenstein's surviving son and descendents said: "There is a dispute between Sylvia Roth and our clients over the content of Daniel Wildenstein's estate."
© website copyright Central Registry 2024