UPDATED: KKR denies an auction victory

March 9, 2009

(This updates an earlier post with KKR’s denial).

Maybe the days of private equity paying eye-watering prices at auction really are over.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts has firmly denied a report in the Economist’s books and arts section saying that, despite the deep economic funk, buyout doyen Henry Kravis was behind the “startling” $28 million purchase of a vintage chair at the recent Yves Saint Laurent sale in Paris:

“Who, in the current climate, were the buyers?” the Economist asked. ”Few prices were more startling than the €22m commanded by an early 20th-century chair designed by Eileen Gray. Cheska Vallois, an Art Deco dealer, won the work in the room; it is thought that she did so on behalf of Henry and Marie-José Kravis, who had already acquired examples of Gray’s work from Ms. Vallois at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris.”

But this is one sales process KKR is keen to distance itself from.

“Contrary to speculation, I can categorically deny that neither Henry Kravis, nor anyone in his family, purchased the chair in question,” KKR spokesman Peter McKillop told Reuters in an email. A spokeswoman for the Economist did not immediately return an (admittedly late in the evening) request for comment.

Who was Gray anyway? As London’s Design Museum explains, Gray is “regarded as one of the most important furniture designers and architects of the early 20th century and the most influential woman in those fields.” Kravis, as you must know, was by Forbes‘s reckoning the 49th richest American last year.

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