Occidental Petroleum Corp. denied Monday that it had used corporate funds--beyond the $5.8 million it previously acknowledged--to finance art purchases for the private collection of its chairman, Armand Hammer.
But the company acknowledged that it gave $12 million to the Armand Hammer Foundation, established by Hammer to support his charitable interests, over a seven-year period in which Hammer was building his art collection. Occidental said in a Delaware court filing that Hammer himself gave the foundation $45 million.
The actual purchase prices for Hammer's art appeared to show that the collection had been assembled for comparatively little money by today's standards, with two key elements costing slightly more than $15 million.
Occidental insisted that its contributions to the foundation were not used to finance Hammer's art acquisitions. They were applied, instead, to the Hammer foundation's support of such charitable activities as refurbishing the historic Blair House in Washington, supporting cancer research at UCLA and making donations to the National Gallery of Art, the company said.
The new disclosures came in court-ordered responses to written questions submitted by attorneys for shareholders who are challenging the commitment of $85 million in Occidental money to build and endow the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, which is under construction in Westwood.
Two groups of shareholders are opposing settlement of a lawsuit filed by a third. All of the litigation challenges the museum costs as an inappropriate use of corporate funds. The proposed settlement in the litigation--which is being heard in Wilmington, Del., where Occidental is incorporated--will be the subject of an April 4 hearing.
Despite the large sums that Occidental said it and Hammer committed to the foundation, the company's filing listed purchase prices totaling only $11.6 million for a group of 45 paintings generally seen as the nucleus of Hammer's collection. Hammer himself put up just $1,076,514 and his foundation contributed the remaining $10.5 million.
Hammer separately contributed $482,668 as his part of the purchase price of a collection of work by the French artist Honore Daumier, while the foundation gave $3,044,727.
Hammer acknowledged in a deposition filed in the same litigation last summer that the separate $5.8-million purchase price of a collection of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci--which the Armand Hammer Foundation announced in 1980 was a gift from Hammer personally--had actually been contributed by Occidental Petroleum.
The admission prompted the judge hearing the case to observe that serious questions remained about the true ownership of Hammer's art. It was unclear whether Monday's filing had fully resolved the questions. Attorneys for dissident shareholders are expected to question Occidental's contention that its $12 million in donations to the Hammer foundation were kept separate from funds used to purchase art.
The court filing shed new light on comparatively small sums that Hammer actually paid for some of his better-known works and underscored the effects of inflation in the art market. In a deposition last June, Hammer estimated his collection's current value at from $250 million to $400 million, yet he paid as little as $1,500 and $2,000, for instance, for paintings by Camille Pissarro.
Key to Hammer's contentions about market value were comments that he made about "Hospital at Saint-Remy," by the French post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh. Monday's court filing disclosed that Hammer bought the painting in 1971 through a New York gallery from Los Angeles collector Norton Simon for $1.2 million. In his deposition last summer, Hammer noted that another van Gogh, "Irises," had brought $53.9 million in a controversial 1987 auction and asserted that "Hospital at Saint-Remy" might be worth as much as $150 million.
In his deposition, Hammer boasted that the potential market price of "Hospital at Saint-Remy" would be extraordinary in view of the price paid for "Irises," whose subject is a small group of flowers, because "I've got the whole garden. I wonder what that whole garden is worth if just two flowers in that garden are worth $50 million to $60 million."
The court filings also disclosed prices that Hammer paid for two portraits by the Dutch old master Rembrandt van Rijn. They are "Juno," painted in about 1665, for which Hammer paid $3,193,212 in 1976, and "Portrait of a Man Holding a Black Hat," executed in about 1637, which Hammer bought in 1979 for $1.8 million.