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Black must pay to keep one Warhol portrait

Judge approves settlement agreement that will see two others auctioned off to pay creditors

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Conrad Black and Andy Warhol might seem like an odd couple, but the two became so friendly that Mr. Warhol offered to create Lord Black's portrait and they met several times at the artist's famous Factory studio in New York.

For years, Lord Black proudly hung three versions of the portrait in his homes in London and Toronto and at the headquarters of his media empire Hollinger Inc. He donated another one to the Vancouver Art Gallery.

But when Lord Black's private company, Toronto-based Ravelston Corp. Ltd., filed for receivership in 2005, the receiver, RSM Richter Inc., said the company owned the three portraits and it pushed to sell them on behalf of creditors. Lord Black fought back, arguing in court that the works were his.

The dispute finally ended yesterday when an Ontario judge approved a settlement agreement.

Under its terms, Lord Black will put up nearly $400,000 to keep one Warhol portrait, done on a pink background. The other two, on blue and silver backgrounds, will be auctioned through Christie's in New York and the proceeds will go to Ravelston's creditors. The first auction is planned for November and the receiver is hoping to get "several hundred thousand dollars."

In an e-mail exchange yesterday, Lord Black said he is considering bidding on the two portraits and he expressed his fondness for Mr. Warhol.

"Andy used to take a Polaroid shot, blow it up, put it on four silk-screens of different colours, and sell them," Lord Black said. "We got on very well, so he sold me all four for the price of one. ... He was a very entertaining character."

Lord Black first met Mr. Warhol in Toronto in 1981.

At the time, Lord Black was a 37-year-old entrepreneur in the midst of building what would become a global newspaper empire.

According to Lord Black, Mr. Warhol asked for the meeting through Gaetana Enders, the wife of Thomas Enders who was the United States ambassador to Canada from 1976 to 1979.

Mr. Warhol "had seen a picture of me in some magazine," Lord Black said. "I met him when he came to photograph me and we held the dinner for him that night at the [Art Gallery of Ontario]."

Mr. Warhol took four photographs but used just one to make the portraits, which were completed the next year. He also kept in touch with Lord Black.

"I saw him quite a number of times after that when I was in New York, having lunch with him at the Factory and went to dinner with him and his entourage also," Lord Black wrote.

Lord Black has been keeping the pink Warhol at his home in Toronto. The other two are in storage in London and Toronto. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the final price Lord Black pays the receiver for the pink Warhol will depend on what Christie's gets for the other two.

The agreement covers several other paintings that were also under dispute. They include, according to court filings, "Sailing Boats by Lewsey, Wayfarers by Watts, Pleasure Boats at Anchor by Rapp and Battleships by Beament," which Lord Black intends to purchase. The receiver is also unloading various pieces of jewellery worth about $40,000 (U.S.).

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is launching a show next week on Mr. Warhol, who died in 1987. The exhibition runs until January and it includes the portrait of Lord Black that he donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery as well as the four photographs Mr. Warhol took. The exhibition will tour Regina and Victoria next year.

The receiver also reported to the court yesterday that it has settled a series of class-action lawsuits filed against Ravelston, Hollinger, Lord Black and several others for slightly more than $54-million. The settlement has yet to be approved by the Ontario court overseeing Ravelston's receivership. If approved, part of the payment will be used to cover some of Lord Black's legal expenses in the case.

The settlement ends one legal tangle for Lord Black, who was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in Chicago in July. He still faces several civil lawsuits and is launching an appeal of his conviction. He is to be sentenced on Nov. 30.

Ravelston will also be sentenced this fall. The receiver pleaded guilty to one charge on behalf of the company, which was also charged in the Chicago criminal case. The plea agreement includes a $7-million fine. Lord Black controlled the Hollinger empire through Ravelston, which he also controlled. His ownership stake has been restricted by the courts.

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