Tax Battle Over Rauschenberg Sculptural Combine Ends
There was an interesting battle over an estate tax bill presented to the heirs of the noted
art dealer Ileana Sonnabend that was recently ended via a mutually agreed-upon
At the center of this dispute was a work of art called "Canyon." This piece is a sculptural
combine that includes a stuffed bald eagle.
It was done by Robert Rauschenberg, and his art is very valuable. If this artwork could
be sold on the open market it could fetch millions.
Valuable property is indeed taxable by the IRS when it is passed on after someone dies.
In fact, the heirs to the Ileana Sonnabend estate know this all too well because they paid
out some $471 million in federal and state estate taxes on their inheritances.
However, they didn't pay anything on this sculptural combine because it has no real
value on the open market. Because of laws protecting the species you cannot buy, sell, or
trade bald eagles.
The IRS saw things another way and slapped a $65 million taxable value on the
painting. They sought around $40 million from the heirs to the estate in taxes and
Ileana Sonnabend's children did not think this was fair and they disputed the matter. In
the end a settlement was reached, and the New York Museum of Modern Art now owns
the painting after it was donated to the museum by the family. The IRS was satisfied
with this and they have dropped their collection attempts.
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