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Simon art collection now boasts $3.7 million Dutch master

It was a sale that made headlines recently: $3.7 million for a painting by a little known Dutch master, the second-highest price in history paid for a painting at auction.

Dirck Bouts's masterpiece "Resurrection of Christ," painted about 1460, is being unveiled Thursday at the Norton Simon Museum of Art.

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But for Los Angeles industrialist-art collector Norton simon, it was far from the first time that his negotiations have made art or business world news.

In 1965, for example, he startled the art community when he paid what was then another near-record price -- $2.2 million -- for a Rembrandt at a London auction. Mr. Simon walked away with his celebrated purchase only after a heated round during which he rose to his feet, shouting, when the auctioneer mistook his secret signal as a sign that the collector was dropping out of the bidding.

"Investment is not the basis [for why I collect art]," Mr. simon told the Monitor a few days before the painting was scheduled to be unveiled. "It's become more and more a desire to build a museum of art of the caliber that is in other parts of world, but seems to be lacking here in the West pretty completely."

For a self-made man whose multimillion- dollar fortune is based in Hunt Foods and Industries Inc. (the tomato and ketchup company), there have been a number of business headlines as well over the decades.

The son of a moderately successful department store owner, Mr. simon has been called a "wizard of corporate acquisition" -- a skill that has drawn him both admiration and stinging criticism.

Under his guidance, Hunt Foods acquired such diverse companies as Canada Dry and McCall Corporation. Yet he has also been denounced as a corporate "raider" whose past efforts to buy up controlling shares in such huge corporations as the American Broadcasting Company-Paramount Theaters have been thwarted by concerned management and other outside business interests.

Once an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for California US senator and a former member of the prestigious University of California Board of Regents, Mr. Simon has long since withdrawn from the business world and today devotes much of his time to the Norton Simon Museum, which sits in the foothills overlooking Los Angeles.

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"Even though I've been in industry, built an industry, played with numbers and worked with creative business techniques, I, at this time, feel the Western world has gone nuts with the scientific being everything," he said.

"We're at the rather dangerous point now where the answer to everything is believed to be scientific," he continued. "I think answers might be found more readily in a museum. . . . A museum is a form of communication which cuts across languages and religious."

In just 25 years, Mr. Simon has acquired some 1,000 pieces of art estimated to be worth more than $500 million. His widely acclaimed collection has been called by Connoisseur, a British art magazine, "one of the most remarkable art collections in the world."

Some of Mr. Simon's works are lent to museums around the world through the Norton Simon Foundation. A large portion of his collection is on display in the Pasadena museum which, prior to being taken over by the industrialist in 1974, was known as the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art.

"The Resurrection of Christ," which was bought on Mr. Simon's behalf on April 16 by his wife, actress Jennifer Jones, was painted about 1460 and is reported to be in extremely good condition. It will join approximately three dozen other masterpieces already on display at the museum.

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