A woman at the Detroit Institute of Art looked over “Self Portrait” by Vincent van Gogh. Christie’s assessed its worth alone at $80 million to $150 million.

Carlos Osorio • Associated Press,

Christie's sizes up worth of art treasures owned by bankrupt Detroit

  • Article by: RANDY KENNEDY New York Times
  • December 19, 2013 - 7:05 PM

The price tags are on the paintings.

Detroit’s emergency manager released a report from Christie’s auction house Thursday detailing market estimates for some of the greatest masterpieces in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Pieter Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” one of the institute’s calling cards, would bring $100 million to $200 million if sold, the auction house estimated. An 1887 Van Gogh self-portrait would bring $80 million to $150 million. Rembrandt’s “The Visitation” would bring $50 million to $90 million. And Matisse’s “The Window,” the first painting by the artist to enter a U.S. museum collection, would bring $40 million to $80 million.

Christie’s appraisal contained no big surprises: The small number of blockbuster Old Master and modern paintings account for the lion’s share of the money that could be raised in a sale.

While museums often have their collections valued in a blanket manner for insurance purposes, the public revelation of what prized paintings and sculptures would bring on the market is a painful turn of events for the institute, which is facing a threat to its existence of a kind never confronted by another U.S. museum of its size.

The estimates — which Christie’s said would total between $454 million and $867 million — cover about 2,800 pieces, or less than 5 percent of the institute’s entire collection because Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn D. Orr, asked Christie’s to focus only on pieces that had been bought with city funds, not ones than had been donated or bought with other funds. The reasoning was that city-purchased pieces would be less subject to legal challenge if a sale had to occur.

Some of Detroit’s largest creditors have contended in court that the museum, which is wholly owned by the city, is not an essential municipal asset and that valuable works of art should be sold to help pay those who are owed money. But the possibility of selling part of the city’s cultural history to pay its bills has enraged many.

The museum and its supporters have vowed to go to court to try to stop any sale. And the institute also recently entered discussions with mediators in the bankruptcy cases to try to forge a deal that would raise as much as $500 million to give to the city in exchange for an agreement to transfer the museum from city ownership.

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