When Elaine Wynn first laid eyes on Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” triptych, she says she was “gobsmacked.” Wynn had quietly slipped into the Christie’s building in New York in November 2013 — just two days before the set of paintings was to be auctioned off — cloaked in sweats and a baseball cap to discreetly inspect the masterpiece.
“First I was worried I’d want to buy it,” says Wynn. “Then I was worried I might not get it.”
Much to her delight, she won the auction with a bid of $142.4 million after commission. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction — a sum so staggering it could even bust a billionaire’s budget. “I had buyer’s remorse,” Wynn admits. “But only for 30 minutes.”
The purchase was the culmination of a lifelong love of art and aesthetics for Wynn, who spent four decades revitalizing the Las Vegas Strip as co-founder of both Wynn Resorts and, first, Mirage Resorts, where she helped put together the Bellagio’s unprecedented fine art gallery. Now she’s applying the same passion to her own private collection and to her role as co-chair of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she is spearheading a $600 million campaign to build a striking new home for the museum’s permanent collection.
“The things I do, I do because they’re deep passions of mine,” says Wynn. “If I’m invested I’m all the way in.”
For that she can thank her mother, a self-taught pianist who instilled in Wynn a deep appreciation for the arts. Though she grew up admiring beautiful paintings, her middle-class family couldn’t afford to buy many of their own, Wynn says. But by the 1990s she and then-husband Steve Wynn had built a billion-dollar Vegas empire that included the Mirage and Treasure Island. The couple’s next crown jewel, the Bellagio, was designed to resemble an elegant European resort; Wynn found herself purchasing art worth millions of dollars — sums she never thought possible — to be displayed in its world-renowned gallery.
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