Masterpiece Theater, Part Two

The Maserati-driving, lion-hunting, art-collecting, litigation lover
Ivylise Simones

In response to “Masterpiece Theater,” Parts 1 & 2, Javier Lumbreras’s attorney, Jay A. Gayoso, penned a missive. Click here to read it.

Javier Lumbreras, a tall, dark-haired Spaniard with light eyes and a boyish smile, oozes confidence. He drives a Maserati. He lives in a Miami Beach condo valued at $1.2 million. His main hobby is hunting, preferably lions or elephants in Africa. And his passion is collecting art, which explains why last year he loaned a painting — allegedly created four centuries ago by Spanish master Diego Velázquez, worth $20 million — to the Bass Museum.

But Lumbreras didn't look like an alpha male when confronted with court documents that showed his net worth seven years ago was a decidedly pathetic $13,410.

How did he get so wealthy so fast?

"That is a good question," Lumbreras answered, his left leg bouncing and his hands shaking. He was wearing a charcoal-gray suit, a red tie flecked with gold accents, and a breast-pocket handkerchief to match. With his attorney, Jay Gayoso, nearby, he launched into a vaguely confusing explanation that included the words "real estate boom" and "family money."

Then Lumbreras addressed the purported Velázquez, a portrait of the Priest Cristobal Suarez de Ribera, that has hung at the Bass for the past year. "You have to differentiate my biography from the painting's biography," he continued.

True enough. But the two have something in common — contention. Just as three art experts questioned by New Times said they hadn't heard of the painting (see "Masterpiece Theater, Part One," April 12), others have attacked the handsome art collector for not paying his bills, suing at the drop of a hat, and selling forged art. Since 1998 he has been sued nine times in Miami-Dade civil courts and once in Broward. He has sued others five times.

Born in Madrid in 1964, Lumbreras moved to Miami in 1989. Armed with a degree in business administration from St. Louis University, he worked as an analyst at TransAtlantic Bank. When a space opened up across the street from the Spanish consulate in Coral Gables a year later, he decided to open a gallery there to pursue his childhood passion: art. He specialized in contemporary Latin American artists, including Carlos Luna, Jose Pantoja, and Pedro Vizcaino.

In 1992 Lumbreras sold a work — allegedly by Cuban master Tomas Sanchez — to gallery owner Ramon Cernuda for $16,000. When Sanchez denied the painting was his, ten years of litigation began. In 1995 a judge ordered Lumbreras to pay Cernuda. But then Lumbreras sued Cernuda for defamation (at one time, Cernuda picketed outside of Lumbreras's gallery) and the case was settled out of court, with the stipulation that both sides must not talk to the media about the matter.

"This story," Lumbreras explains, "has really haunted me my entire life."

It was one of the reasons, he adds, that he closed his gallery in 1994 and entered the construction and development business. But according to court records, Lumbreras didn't renounce art. Or litigation. Among the many court cases involving Lumbreras:

In July 1992 a judge ordered him to pay $3,753 to Brant Publications. Details are unclear. The case file has been destroyed and Lumbreras doesn't recall details.

In May 1994 the Meyer and Merle Berger Family Foundation sued after asking him to sell on consignment Archbishop at Age One, a Fernando Botero painting worth $300,000. The foundation claimed Lumbreras wouldn't give up the painting when they requested it. Police and lawyers were on hand when he returned the work. ("Very simple story," he said. "It just took me two weeks to produce the painting.") Case dismissed. No charges filed.

In December 1995 U.S. Customs agents seized $150,000 from a Miami bank account that belonged to his grandmother — alleging the account might have been used in the drug trade. The money was later returned to Lumbreras and his grandmother. ("A very silly case," he says.) Neither Lumbreras nor his grandmother were ever charged with drug activity or wrongdoing.

In July 2003 a bank tried to foreclose on a multimillion-dollar Miami Beach property owned by Lumbreras. The suit was dropped. A separate issue related to the property is pending. (The bank was paid, he said. The ongoing dispute can't be discussed.)

In September 2004 a man named Juan Pava sued Lumbreras, claiming the art collector wrote $600,000 in worthless checks for some art. ("I stopped payment," Lumbreras explains. "I didn't want to buy the paintings.") The case was dismissed.

In December 2004 American National Realty Corporation in Broward sued Lumbreras for not paying a $2500 debt. The firm helped him lower his property taxes. ("I had sold the property," he said.) Case dismissed. Again.

Maybe the most interesting dustup stems from a 2002 incident at Tantra, a Miami Beach restaurant and club. One night in August Lumbreras sent a bottle to an acquaintance, then — he says — was hit with a bill of "more than $1000." After he refused to sign the credit card bill, the cops were called and the art collector ended up in jail for grand theft. After he was released and the club declined to press charges, he sued for emotional distress and defamation of character. That case is still pending.

Six art experts and collectors in Miami and New York, questioned by New Times, declined to go on the record about Lumbreras. "I wouldn't let him in my gallery," said one.

"He's very litigious," commented another.

"I am very stubborn," admits Lumbreras. "And I'm easy to pick a fight with. If someone wants to fight with me, I'm willing to go to court."

But the court records tell only part of his story. A charming conversationalist and wine lover, he peppers his speech with quotes from Emerson, Picasso, and Aristotle. Since 1989 he has incorporated at least three businesses in Florida, including Artemundi, a corporation that acquires art. These days, he says, he concentrates on a development business and infrastructure investment in Mexico. He's also writing a book on art. In his briefcase, he carries a thick Spanish-language volume on the psychology and tactics of the art collector.

He is also active in the Bass Museum, both as a patron and a collector; he is a friend of curator Diane Camber and even hired her daughter as a lawyer in his case against Cernuda. He sees no conflict of interest over this detail. (Camber didn't respond to e-mailed questions.)

Lumbreras is vague when talking about how, exactly, he acquired the purported Velázquez after owning a mere $50,000 worth of art in 2000, at the time of his divorce. Indeed the art collector produced paperwork showing the work is owned by a London-based investment corporation called Patience Investments, in which he "has an interest." Though he says he has no plans to sell the work, he admits its value increases by hanging in the Bass. "That's the way you add value to a painting," he says. "That's my job."

His proof that the painting (the original version of which hangs in a Seville museum) is an authentic Velázquez starts with a copy of a will, dated 1711, of a Spanish duke. It also is based on a report done in 2000 by Peter Cherry, a Velázquez expert at the University of Dublin. Cherry wrote that the canvas, the paint pigment, and technique all correspond to Velázquez's other works. "Your painting could be a replica by the hand of Diego Velázquez," he concluded.

In 2004, Carmen Garrido, an expert at the Prado Museum in Madrid, wrote in a Spanish art magazine called Goya that the work was likely done by Velázquez, and that a radiograph showed that the painting "reveal(s) a quick and direct work typical" of the master.

But Lumbreras — who asserts he has even more evidence — cautions, "Art is always open for debate."

Indeed, said Gridley McKim-Smith, an author of two books on Velázquez and an art scholar at Bryn Mawr University in Pennsylvania. She says that newly discovered works of Velázquez are "quite, quite rare." She adds, "You always have a complex and controversial situation if you have a work that is based on an earlier work that he did. It is not so frequent that a highly prized painting by Velázquez is in private hands."

Marcus Blake, an expert on Spanish art at the Hispanic Society of America in New York, confirms this: "It's a very rare occurrence that he painted something twice."

Neither McKim-Smith, Blake, nor Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt (a third Velázquez scholar contacted by the New Times) had heard of the painting that hangs in the Bass. They knew of the original, in Seville, but not a second version.

Responds Lumbreras: "This is a dialogue that happens all over the Old Masters' world. It's not for me to say whether the painting is authentic or not. I would never pretend to be an expert or someone who can authenticate a work."

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