The disparity in the art world grows. Yesterday, we pointed to the $200 million windfall that artist David Choe was reputedly going to make from Facebook’s IPO and today we learn that the nation of Qatar, which is quietly building a very expensive collection of modern and contemporary art, acquired Paul Cézanne’s “The Card Players” (c.1890?) for the tune of $250 million in 2011.

First reported by Vanity Fair, which is an unlikely source for art news, the information should be taken with a grain of salt as it is difficult to confirm the prices of works purchased in private sales. Having said that, it’s still a mighty big figure and even if you shaved off $100 million it would still be the most ever paid for a single art work. Jackson Pollock’s “No. 5” (1948) went for $140 million in 2006.

While the work is one of five in a renowned series by the post-Impressionist, the purchase reasserts what is already been widely know, Qatar is amassing an important collection of art for their new museums and hoping to make the island nation a culture destination.

How did the Qataris get the Cézanne? According to Vanity Fair:

For years, Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos had owned and treasured the painting, rarely lending it. He was “entertained” but unmoved, according to one art dealer, by occasional offers for it that climbed ever higher alongside the art market in past decades. A few years ago, the painting was listed by artnews magazine as one of the world’s top artworks still in private hands.

Shortly before his death in the winter of 2011, Embiricos began discussions about its sale, which was handled by his estate. Two art dealers — William Acquavella and another, rumored to be Larry Gagosian — offered upward of $220 million for the painting, people close to the matter said. But the royal family of Qatar, without quibbling on price, outbid them, at $250 million. (Disputes about the exact price turn on currency exchange rates, exactly when the painting changed hands—and whether the person talking has a pricey Cézanne in inventory. Estimates of what Qatar paid range as high as $300 million.)

The Qataris also reputedly have 11 Rothkos, a massive Richard Serra, and other treasures that are sure to make a splash when the museums open.
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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.