Art dealer Bill Acquavella heads up Acquavella Galleries, the tony Upper East Side gallery that was founded by his father.
It was Nicholas Acquavella, Bill's father, who founded Acquavella Galleries in 1921, specializing in works from the Italian Renaissance. Bill joined the business in 1960 after picking up a degree in art history from Washington & Lee and a stint in the Army. He landed his first major deal in 1965, when he snapped up 22 paintings from the estate of the French painter Pierre Bonnard, and managed to sell off 17 of them to collectors before the show had even opened. Over the course of the 1970s and '80s, Acquavella turned the gallery into a leader in the 19th and 20th century art markets, attracting billionaire clients like Paul Mellon, Walter Annenberg, and Henry Ford. He earned more fame in 1990 when he struck one of the largest art deals of the late 20th century, partnering with Sotheby's to buy the contents of the Pierre Matisse Gallery; Pierre was the son of famed painter Henri Matisse and his trove included some 2,300 works by Miro, Chagall, and other highly coveted names in the modernist canon. Bill continues to oversee the gallery founded by his father, who passed away in 1987. These days, though, he's assisted by his three kids, who all work by his side at Acquavella Galleries' East 79th Street townhouse.
Looking to drop $100 million on a Van Gogh? Bill may be able to help. He's long been associated with big sales of Impressionist, Postimpressionist, Cubist, and Surrealist work by artists like Monet, Matisse, and Picasso. More of a salesman than a connoisseur, he's accumulated a customer list that reads like the Forbes 400. Hedge fund mogul Steve Cohen often buys from or through Acquavella, as does casino and resort developer Steve Wynn, who's acquired works by Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Jasper Johns from the gallerist. Lately, though, Acquavella has gravitated to younger, more contemporary artists as well as the red-hot Chinese market, where many wealthy collectors are focusing their attention and where there's the most frenzied buying and selling.
Acquavella and his wife Donna have three kids: Eleanor, Nicholas, and Alexander. The couple lives at 820 Fifth, in an apartment they bought in 1993 for $9.8 million and use to display their voluminous personal art collection, which includes pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and Leger. Neighbors in the building include Jack Levy, Donald Jonas, Michel David-Weill, Ara Hovnanian, and socialite Jayne Wrightsman.
It was Acquavella who brokered the $140 million sale of Picasso's La Reve, which Steve (Wynn) planned to sell to Steve (Cohen). All parties were thrilled with the transaction until the casino mogul stumbled and ripped a hole in the canvas the day before it was due to ship to New York, thus killing the deal.