The UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center plans to sell one of its most valuable assets, an illustrated scientific manuscript by Italian Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci.
Surpassed in value only by the art museum’s “Hospital at St.-Remy” by Vincent van Gogh, the Leonardo notebook is expected to sell for as much as $10 million, according Christie’s, the New York auction house that will sell it.
The 72-page work was handwritten by the artist-scientist and includes 360 drawings and diagrams; it had been generally known as the Codex Leicester but was dubbed the Codex Hammer in 1980 when the late oil tycoon purchased it from the heirs of the first Earl of Leicester for a record $5.6 million. It will be offered for sale Nov. 11 in an auction to be announced today at Christie’s Park Avenue offices.
The work is being sold as a hedge against a potentially devastating lawsuit, according to the June issue of the monthly Art Newspaper. The story quotes UCLA/Hammer Museum Director Henry Hopkins as saying the Codex is among works in the Hammer collection being held in escrow as a guarantee against any financial obligation that might result from a lawsuit filed in 1990 on behalf of Joan Weiss, the niece and sole heir to the fortune of Hammer’s wife, Frances, who died in 1989. Reached on Wednesday, Hopkins did not deny the report but declined to comment further on how the money would be used.
Weiss is claiming half interest in Hammer’s art collection and in all other property acquired by Hammer during the couple’s 33-year marriage.
Hammer parlayed Occidental Petroleum Corp. into the nation’s seventh-largest oil company with the help of loans from his wife, who was the widow of a wealthy Chicago businessman. Frances Hammer signed several documents stating that she had no interest in the artworks, but the Weiss suit alleges that Hammer and his attorneys deceived Frances Hammer about her ownership rights and deprived her of her fair share of community property.
The case is scheduled to go to court July 11, according to Arthur Groman, Hammer’s longtime friend and attorney.
In announcing the sale, a Christie’s press release says “The Armand Hammer Museum’s former board of directors made the decision to sell the Codex Hammer in order to honor legal agreements between the Hammer Museum and UCLA as a result of their recent merger.”
The museum specializes in art, including Hammer’s collections and special exhibitions. The Leonardo manuscript was selected for sale because it is more significant as a scientific document than as a work of art, according to Hopkins. “While the Codex Hammer is an exceedingly important and rare document, the sale of this manuscript would least impact the core aesthetic identity of the Armand Hammer collections,” Hopkins said in a prepared statement.
On March 31, the university assumed management of the 3-year-old museum, which was conceived by Hammer, the late chairman of Occidental and financed by the company. The operating agreement stipulates that works in the collection may be placed in escrow and sold to establish a reserve fund to pay legal costs, discharge financial obligations and fund cash flow deficits from the bond portfolio. It also specifically states that the Codex may be sold or encumbered at any time.