Tycoon buys Austria's Essl modern art collection

VIENNA Tue Sep 2, 2014 7:54am EDT

Austrian construction group Strabag CEO Hans Peter Haselsteiner speaks during an interview with Reuters in Vienna July 4, 2012.   REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Austrian construction group Strabag CEO Hans Peter Haselsteiner speaks during an interview with Reuters in Vienna July 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian tycoon Hans Peter Haselsteiner has come to the rescue of home-improvements millionaire Karlheinz Essl by buying a modern art collection that Essl had tried in vain to sell to the state to prop up his BauMax business empire.

A spokeswoman for Haselsteiner, whose family foundation has a 25 percent stake in construction group Strabag, confirmed a report in newspaper Die Presse on Tuesday that the Essl collection had been bought.

A new firm owned 60 percent by the Haselsteiner family foundation and 40 percent by Essl family vehicles is paying more than 100 million euros ($131 million) for the collection, the paper said. The money would help shore up the BauMax group.

One of Europe's biggest modern art collections includes works by major Austrian artists such as Oskar Kokoschka and Hermann Nitsch and international names including Gerhard Richter, Sam Francis and Anish Kapoor.

Austria in April turned down Essl's request to buy the 7,000-piece collection, rejecting his argument that 4,000 of the more than 9,000 jobs in his struggling company were at risk if it did not do so.

Loss-making BauMax had 158 outlets in nine countries as far afield as Turkey -- a market it is quitting -- but ran into trouble when the financial crisis crimped demand for DIY supplies in eastern Europe.

(Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by David Evans)

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