One could be forgiven for failing to understand how the sale of a painting bought in 1983 for $15,000 and resold last month for $30.7 million, could ever be deemed “disappointing”. After all, the price increase represents more than 2,000 times the original purchase price.

But add in the consignor’s high hopes for a nine-figure price tag—or upwards of $100 million—and a heavy dose of family dysfunction, and you’ll start to understand the forces behind a $100 million retaliatory lawsuit now at play in the New York State Supreme Court.

Belinda Neumann Donnelly filed a lawsuit against her father Hubert G. Neumann, yesterday, alleging that Hubert engaged in a “greedy, malevolent, fraudulent, bad-faith and (unfortunately) successful scheme to financially devastate [her mother’s estate, of which she is the agent] and, indirectly, Belinda, by destroying the value of the Estate’s most valuable asset,” Basquiat’s large painting Flesh and Spirit (1983).

It was consigned to Sotheby’s and placed in its contemporary art evening auction on May 16 with an estimate of about $30 million. Bidding opened at $24 million and elicited minimal interest before it was hammered down to a phone buyer for $27 million ($30.7 million with premium).

Neumann Donnelly alleges that the relatively lackluster bidding was a result of her father Hubert’s actions, namely that two weeks prior to the sale he filed a “frivolous complaint” against Sotheby’s, including a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to halt the sale. Read more