$140 gets Wexford man a million-dollar Picasso piece

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

A Wexford man who was looking for a picture to hang on his living room wall won an international raffle for a million-dollar Picasso on Wednesday with a $140 ticket.

Jeffrey Gonano, 25, who became interested in art only a few years ago, decided to buy one of 50,000 tickets put up for sale online at 100 euros each to raise funds for an association working to preserve the biblical city of Tyre, in modern day Lebanon.

The prize was Pablo Picasso's 1914 work, “L'Homme au Gibus” (“Man with Opera Hat”), from the Spanish master's Cubist period.

Gonano's winning ticket — 747815 — was picked by computer by Sotheby's in Paris.

“I'm still in shock. It's still very odd,” Gonano said. “I never thought I would win. I just saw a news article on Yahoo and bought a ticket. I don't even know why.”

His girlfriend, Gloria Spataro, knows.

“He just recently began looking for pieces of art for his home,” she said.

“He was looking for just the right piece to fit his house. I actually got him a piece of art for Christmas. He said (before the drawing), ‘I love my art piece, but it's not as good as a Picasso.' He figured (the raffle) would be the only time he would be able to get something like that. It's the most outrageous thing,” said Spataro, 25.

The Picasso is most assuredly not going on his wall, said Gonano, who works as a project manager for the family business, Preferred Fire Protection Inc., a sprinkler contracting firm in Ross.

“It's too expensive to put on my wall,” said Gonano, who has no plans to put it up for sale.

“I want to keep it. Maybe I'll lend it to a museum and let them put it on display rather than putting it in a vault, so other people can enjoy it. It all depends. I don't know what the taxes are or anything.”

The raffle tickets went on sale in April. Gonano said he purchased his about two months ago.

“He told me, ‘This is a great opportunity to win this,' never thinking he would win,” said his mother, Kathleen Gonano. “I guess he felt confident. I wasn't as confident, but it paid off.”

Gonano said he couldn't believe it when he got the call from Paris about 2 p.m.

“They announced that I won. It was actually very noisy. It sounded like it was some sort of live event,” he said. “I'm sort of shy. It's hard to digest something like this. I never thought I'd ever see (a genuine) Picasso.”

Organizers said that buyers from France and Germany to Iran and Kyrgyzstan had taken part, with a large number of Americans.

The small drawing — which features vivid shapes in opaque gouache paint — was purchased by the Association to Save Tyre from a New York gallery with the help of a large bank loan. Organizers say they paid slightly less for the work than the $1 million estimate given by Sotheby's experts.

The sale was given the green light by Picasso's grandson, Olivier Picasso, who said his grandfather would have been thrilled that his work was being put to good use.

“My grandfather was a pioneer in everything, in his love life, in his artwork, so tonight I'm sure he would have helped the cause,” Picasso said.

He said his grandfather, who died in 1973, would have been “amused to participate in an event like this.”

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or mhasch@tribweb.com. Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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