Cy Twombly's Assets Targeted by Italian Authorities in Multimillion-Dollar Tax Evasion Case

Cy Twombly's Assets Targeted by Italian Authorities in Multimillion-Dollar Tax Evasion Case
Alessandro Twombly
(Courtesy of Fred Torres Collaborations / Photo by Mario Klinger)

Alessandro Twombly, the artist son of American painter Cy Twombly and the Italian Tatiana Franchetti, is embroiled in a series of turbid legal battles to determine the fate of the late artist's billion-dollar-plus estate. Reports in the Italian-language media paint a picture of charges as tangled as the lines in one of Twombly's famous canvases. 

The Milan-based paper Corriere della Sera says that Italian authorities claim that the legendary painter, who died last year, evaded taxes on a cache of 40-odd paintings sold between 2005 and 2009 for some €80 million ($106 million). Last week, officials therefore ordered the seizure of "no less than" €29.2 million ($38.8 million) that was held in Cy Twombly's name in the Banca Popolare di Bergamo, charging his American advisors Ralph Ernest Lerner and Thomas Habib Saliba with aiding in the "fraudulent evasion" of taxes. Alessandro Twombly had, authorities say, attempted to transfer €3.8 million ($5 million) from the account to a trust controlled by the two men.

Alessandro has said that he believes that the taxes for the paintings had already been paid in America, and that he will fulfill any obligations to the Italian Ministry of Revenue as soon as he is in full possession of his inheritance. The artist's will, written under U.S. law, reportedly allocated the bulk of the elder Twombly's art and cash to the Cy Twombly Foundation of New York (the Web site lists Ralph Lerner as the Foundation's officer), leaving $150 million in cash to Alessandro. However, the Corriere della Sera article adds that Lerner and Saliba can only make the funds available to Alessandro once all taxes (U.S. and Italian) have been paid. 

Finally, in another dispute, the Italian press says that Alessandro is levying a separate claim on a group of paintings that he claims do not figure in the bequest as they were in the family's collection. What the exact truth of these various charges is not yet clear, but given the towering legacy — both artistic and financial — of Cy Twombly's art, the results are sure to make waves.