A woman embroiled in a contentious high-profile and high-net-worth divorce secretly took a Picasso painting off her ex-husband’s wall and replaced it with a forged version that she had painted herself.

High-Net-Worth Divorce

The ex-husband at issue is Bill Gross, the co-founder of Pacific Investment Management (more commonly known as Pimco), was formerly known widely as “The Bond King”, and has been described as “one of the world’s legendary investors” He has a net worth of $2.4 billion. At one juncture, Bill was responsible for more than $1-trillion in other people’s money, which they handed over to his hedge fund.

His former wife, Sue Gross, filed for divorce in November 2016, after 31 years of marriage. The couple lived in the wealthy community of Orange County, south of Los Angeles.

Ownership of the Original Picasso

The disputed painting, which depicts Picasso’s mistress Marie-Therese Walter sleeping, had jointly belonged to the couple since 2006.

In August 2017, in the middle of their divorce proceedings, the couple decided to toss a coin for the painting, and Sue ended up winning sole ownership of it. At the time, the painting was hanging on Bill’s wall.

The former couple’s entire art collection had been appraised earlier in the year as part of the ongoing divorce proceedings. However, Bill eventually learned that the Picasso had already been appraised by a different appraiser, and by the time Sue won the painting, she already knew its value.

A Masterful Forgery

It turned out that Sue had already taken the original painting. The one that was hanging in Bill’s home at the time of the coin toss was a forgery that she herself had painted. During testimony in which she was asked about the Picasso, Sue admitted that she had taken the painting after Bill had e-mailed her to tell her to “take all the furniture and art that you’d like.” However, instead of taking the painting and simply leaving an empty spot on the wall, she replaced it with the replication.

Sue pointed out that Bill had known about the existence of the replication as he had watched her paint it “years ago”. She did note that she had not informed him that she had taken the original Picasso as the former couple “didn’t speak for a year and a half.”

Other Missing Items

Sue also admitted that she taken a 7-foot tall, 300-pound rabbit sculpture. In addition, Bill alleged that several other expensive items had disappeared from his home, including a Tiffany clock, 20 bottles of wine, Christmas decorations, and another large statue.

Ex-Wife was “The Artist in the Family”

Sue had often been featured in widely distributed investment outlook letters that Bill sent to clients. He had previously celebrated her artistic ability. In a June 2015 letter, he noted that Sue was “the artist in the family” and that she liked to “paint replicas of some of the famous pieces, using an overhead projector to copy the outlines and then just sort of fill in the spaces”.

Bill had noted that Sue had said to him “Why spend $20 million?…I can paint that one for $75”. He had also previously told investors about another Picasso replica that Sue had painted, signed with her own name, and hung over the fireplace in the then-couple’s bedroom.

Considerations in High-Net Worth Divorces

High-net worth divorces involving multiple properties, significant assets (including art collections), and large amounts of money are more complex than standard divorces. Difficulties often arise with regard to property division, including an analysis of asset worth, location, and accessibility. Windsor family lawyer Jason P. Howie has more than 25 years of experience handling divorce issues for clients with significant and complex assets. We can provide you with the personal support and attention to detail you need in your high-asset divorce.

We also assist with thorny matters arising out of high-net-worth property valuation including:

  • Family trusts
  • Privately held corporations
  • Preferred or special shares
  • Investment properties and real estate
  • Stock options
  • Executive compensation

To speak with Jason P. Howie about high-asset divorce issues, call 519-973-1500 or contact us online. Many of our clients are referred to us by former and current clients, as well as by lawyers, accountants and other professionals.