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Article updated: 2/8/2013 6:35 PM

Lawsuit: St. Charles art dealer lost $103,000 French lithograph

By Harry Hitzeman

An insurance company is suing a St. Charles art dealer for more than $103,000, arguing that the dealer lost an original lithograph from French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec that was left in his care.

State Farm Insurance alleges that Alfred DeSimone was negligent as he either discarded or lost an original, centuries-old lithograph of "Artistide Bruant Dans Son Cabaret, 1893" that some have described as one of the artist's most recognizable works.

Thomas Brebner, an attorney for State Farm, said their client, Thomas Rosensteel of St. Charles, bought the painting in 2006 as an investment, but never hung it up. Rosensteel gave the artwork to DeSimone to store and agreed to pay him a fee as soon as a buyer was found, says the suit, filed this week.

Rosensteel actually found a buyer himself and went to get the piece from DeSimone on July 20, 2010, but DeSimone could not find it, the suit states.

According to Brebner, DeSimone at the time told Rosensteel that he may have put the work in a mailing tube that may have been thrown out or sent to someone else.

Rosensteel filed an insurance claim and State Farm paid $103,109; now the company wants DeSimone to pay up.

"It was kind of a mysterious disappearance. (DeSimone) was a broker and he basically was going to sell it. He was to hold onto it," Brebner said. "The credibility (of DeSimone's story) is not for me to assess. But obviously it's gone and Mr. DeSimone is responsible for the loss."

DeSimone's number was unlisted and no one answered the door at his St. Charles home Friday; Rosensteel did not return phone messages this week.

Mark Krisco, an instructor of art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said he found it difficult to believe that someone, especially with a background in art, could accidentally discard the lithograph.

"It's probably one of (Toulouse-Lautrec's) best known posters of all time. It has his flair for economy and robust love of character," said Krisco, who also is the curator of the Gecht Collection, a privately held collection that features many of Toulouse-Lautrec's works.

Krisco explained that Toulouse-Lautrec created three versions of posters to publicize Bruant, a flamboyant lounge singer. The lithographs were hung all around Paris in the late 1800s.

"Lautrec is easily one of the great draftsmen of the 19th Century," Krisco said. "A lot (of the lithographs) were printed, but there's not a lot that are around anymore. These were actual posters put on walls around Paris."

According to court records, DeSimone had been facing financial difficulties in recent years.

Default judgments of $3,824 and $2,805 were issued against DeSimone in September 2009 and May 2011 respectively after credit card companies sued DeSimone for nonpayment and he failed to show up in court, records show.

In December 2010, Deutsche Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against DeSimone and his wife, arguing they fell behind on payments on a $400,000 home loan, records show. But the bank later canceled two foreclosure sales and voluntarily dismissed court proceedings against DeSimone in November 2012, records show.

DeSimone has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing as it pertains to the artwork.

The lawsuit is set to be heard by a judge on April 25.

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