A Hedge Fund Titan Is Suing Over Four Monet Paintings Worth $45 Million That Were Lost In a Michigan House Fire

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Recently released documents in a year-long, high-stakes dispute between private collectors and their insurance company have revealed that major paintings by Claude Monet, worth an estimated $45 million, were among artworks destroyed in a fire last year.

The blaze ravaged a lakefront home in Oceana County, Mich., in June 2022. But in earlier legal documents, the pricey paintings were only referred to by vague pseudonyms including “Path,” “Cliff” and “Castle.” The specifics about the works were first reported by Matthew Miller in a story last week on local Michigan news site, MLive.

The dispute is between collectors Julie and Matthew Halbower (and their entity that owned the artworks, Halbower Legacy Trust) against a syndicate of insurers under the umbrella of London-based Hiscox, an underwriter for Lloyds of London. 

Matthew Halbower is founder and CEO of Pentwater Capital Management, a hedge fund that manages more than $9.8 billion. According to recent reports, including in the , Pentwater has made “a killing” in recent months by betting against the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to block or delay major deals. None of the attorneys for the parties responded to requests for comment.

The Halbower Trust first sued Hiscox in August 2022 in Michigan, two months after the massive fire at the collectors’ Michigan home. “The June fire resulted in a total loss of the Oceana County Home and its contents including five works of fine art insured under a Fine Art Policy issued by Howden Insurance Brokers Limited and…underwritten by Hiscox,” according to court documents. The policy had a liability limit of $100 million, court papers show.

Halbower alleged that following the fire, the insurer did not reimburse the trust for the full value of three paintings destroyed in the fire and has not paid anything at all for two additional artworks they allege are covered under the policy.

The Mlive report first identified the specific works in question. They include: Monet’s (1880) aka “Path” which had a fair market appraised value of $14 million, and for which the insurers paid out $16 million; Monet’s (1882) aka “Cliff,” appraised at $14 million and for which the insurers paid out $15 million, and Francis Picabia’s (1906), aka “Castle” appraised at $325,000 and for which the insurers paid out $333,000.

The total paid out so far to the Halbower Trust as a result of the fire appears to be approximately $31.3 million.

Claude Monet, Prairie, Ciel nuageux (1890).

Claude Monet, Prairie, Ciel nuageux (1890).

The two works that Halbower made claims on but which have not been agreed on or paid out by insurers include: Monet’s (1890), referred to as “Prairie” in earlier documents, and Monet’s (1878) aka “River.” The former was sold at Sotheby’s in 2019 for nearly $6 million, and the Halbower Trust acquired it in 2021. The collectors bought in 2018, and it has a current listed fair market value of $13 million, according to an email exchange between Halbower and a third party who was assisting with property lists for the policy, documented in court filings.

Notwithstanding the coverage denial, the current value of is listed at a fair market value of $14.5 million in the court documents—a significant bump from its 2019 sale price. It’s unclear why the value would have jumped by $8.5 million in the intervening period.

At issue is whether or not the two paintings had been added to the policy. To that end, a recent flurry of court filings between the two sides has centered on demands by the insurers for hard drives and cellphones, in part regarding correspondence between Matthew Halbower and a third-party insurance agent about the addition of works to the policy and upping the overall policy limits.

According to the Hiscox answer to the complaint filed in November 2022, “Hiscox admits that it has denied coverage for the Prairie and the River consistent with the terms of the Policy.”

The court documents also list roughly seven other undamaged major Impressionist artworks that were located at different residences and are not part of the claim.

 

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