The bidding opened at $500,000 and escalated quickly to $3 million at New York’s Sotheby Parke Bernet auction house. Two bidders fought on (to scattered applause) until the gavel fell at $6.4 million. That made J.M.W. Turner’s 1836 pre-Impressionist masterpiece Juliet and Her Nurse the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, topping the 1970 sale of Velázquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja by $900,000.
The new owner was not the bald, bespectacled man in a gray suit who had won the war of nerves—he was only an agent—but an Argentine widow whose wealth and power are as imposing as her name: Amalia La Croze de Fortabat.
Decisive action involving money is not new to her. When her second husband, Alfredo Fortabat, died in 1976 at age 81, his Loma Negra (Black Hill) company controlled half the cement production in Argentina and owned vast cattle ranches besides. They had kept quiet about their 1963 wedding, performed in France, because Argentina does not recognize divorce (both had previously been married). However, after being widowed, Amalia, as a member of Loma Negra’s board of directors, was named president and grabbed the corporate reins.
Amalia inherited a taste for good living from her father, a physician, whose family built Buenos Aires’ trolley system. A subway stop and an avenue in the city are named for La Crozes.
Two weeks before the Sotheby auction, the 60ish widow flew to New York in her private Learjet. Her mission was apparently to begin stocking a museum she is building in Olavarría, Loma Negra’s headquarters, 210 miles southwest of Buenos Aires.
She attended a Christie’s auction of paintings owned by auto magnate Henry Ford. Señora de Fortabat denies making any bids. Those who were there contend otherwise. She reportedly bagged a $2.9 million Gauguin (La Plage au Pouldu) and a $1.9 million Van Gogh (Le Jardin Public). Back home in Argentina, the most the lady would admit to was: “Of course, I would like to have the Gauguin. The day will come when I will buy one.”