Real life Gordon Gekko becomes billionaire

James Tomilson Hill, the Blackstone Group LP (NYSE:BX) vice chairman who runs the company’s $58 billion hedge fund business, has emerged as a billionaire as the world’s largest private-equity firm and his art collection have surged in value.

Hill, who joined Blackstone after engaging in some of the biggest takeover battles of the 1980s, owns 17.4 million shares of the alternative-asset manager, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The stake is valued at $585 million as of yesterday.

The 66-year-old, who’s credited with inspiring the look of Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street,” also owns an art collection valued at about $500 million, according to seven appraisal experts. Hill and his wife, Janine, have acquired more than 100 bronzes and paintings created over a span of seven centuries by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.

Hill declined to comment on his net worth.

“I don’t like to talk about the financial aspect of art,” the billionaire said in a separate interview about an exhibition of a portion of his collection at the Frick museum in New York. “Collecting art is a highly personal endeavor.”

Bacon, Warhol

The Hills started buying art in 1980. His collection now includes works by artists whose prices have skyrocketed in recent years. Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” became the most expensive artwork sold at auction, fetching $142.4 million at Christie’s in New York on Nov. 12. The next day, Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” sold for $105.4 million at Sotheby’s.

Hill doesn’t own either, but his four Bacon paintings may be worth more than $140 million, according to two valuation experts familiar with the collection who asked not to be named because the information is private. Hill’s 1956 “Study for Portrait II (Pope)” by Bacon fetched 14 million pounds ($27.4 million) at Christie’s in London in 2007. Its current market value is about $60 million.

He bought Warhol’s 1962 “Campbell’s Soup Can (beef consomme)” for $340,000 at auction in 1996, according to Artnet Worldwide Corp. In 2010, a similar-sized painting from Warhol’s soup can series sold for $9 million at auction.

Frick show

His 34 bronze statuettes, from the 15th to the early 18th centuries, are on view through June 15 at the Frick Collection, a museum founded by earlier-era financier Henry Clay Frick. They are valued at more than $70 million, according to people familiar with the works.

Hill’s 1612-14 canvas by Rubens of a battle commander hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where Hill is a trustee. The Rubens fetched 9 million pounds at Christie’s in London in 2010. Its current value could range from 15 million pounds to 20 million pounds, according to Johnny Van Haeften, a London-based art dealer. The Hills have promised a gift to the Met of the 14th-century resurrection scene by Giovanni da Milano, said Elyse Topalian, a Met spokeswoman.

“I don’t know many collectors who can spread their wings over that kind of time frame,” Richard Feigen, a New York art dealer who has known the Hills professionally and socially since the 1990s, said in an interview. “As collectors they are more sophisticated than most museums. In order for them to like something, it has to be world class.”

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