Tag Archives: art law


From time to time there are stories of cleaners mistakenly clearing and throwing out modern art work.  One would have to be particularly dedicated to modern art, and po-faced, (or the artist!) not to snigger.
The latest report comes from Bari in Italy where a cleaner has thrown out a work by Sala Murat.  Given that the work is described as “newspaper and cardboard and cookie pieces scattered across the floor”, it sounds like a cleaner-magnet.  Apparently it is valued at €10,000.
The apologetic cleaning firm, which presumably wants to maintain its relationship with the gallery, has said that its insurance would cover the matter.  I wonder if that is right.  If I were acting for the insurers, I would require the insured to defend any claim by the gallery on the basis that the loss was caused by its negligence.  It should have anticipated the potential loss and left a sign for the cleaners saying “Not to be removed”. Normally such a sign might say “Not rubbish”, but perhaps that wouldn’t be true in this case.
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Nazi appropriated art

The Gurlitt story continues to fascinate the art world.
My earlier post Nazi looted art reflected the view at the time that any stash of Nazi art must have been looted, and that Cornelius Gurlitt and the art seized from his flat would not be reunited.  I suppose we should have known that no one who has secretly kept a €1.4bn collection for 45 years would give it up without a fight.
Gurlitt’s account of events and his lawyers’ arguments are now set out in a website that he or his lawyers have just set up Gurlitt.info.  However, whether Gurlitt still has his mental faculties seems to be open to question. As the site explains, at the behest of Gurlitt’s doctors, the Munich court has appointed a guardian, and yet it does not deprive him of the legal capacity to enter into contracts. In the cryptic words of the Q&A section of the website, “You can draw your own conclusions from this information”.
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Getting good title to art

Prompted by the “flea market Renoir” art case in the US, I’ve done an article for The Times about making sure that you get to own and keep the art you buy: Getting good title to art
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Nazi looted art

The amazing discovery of over 1,400 pieces of Nazi era looted or forced-sale art, worth perhaps €1bn, in the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich, will probably be the art story of the year, and perhaps the decade.  Interest has naturally focused on the pieces themselves, although the German authorities seem slow and reluctant to release full details.
Also of interest is the potential for a bumper crop of restitution claims from the descendants of the original owners.  Usually, restitution claims present a difficult moral question as to whether the art should be returned to the original family, who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, or to the current owner who innocently and in good faith bought the art from an intermediate owner, who was probably also innocent.  US law is generally more ‘pro-original owner’, whereas in Europe we tend to be more ‘pro-current innocent purchaser’, which is why so many claims are brought in New York, where the courts take a rather liberal view of their jurisdiction.
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Selling off the family silver

With the courts on vacation in August and September, and the summer exodus to art fairs, there have been few if any developments in English art law, which is my best excuse for the lack of recent posts.
However, I have noticed that the press and campaigners are increasingly focusing on something that has been going on ever since the recession bit in 2008, namely the sale of art by cash-strapped local government and other publicly funded organisations.  Christies’ appraisal of the contents of the Detroit Institute of Arts has led to a fear that the museum will be closed and the contents sold as part of the city’s insolvency process.  In England, many local councils have sold, or at least tried to sell, some of their art, from Henry Moore statues in public places (Tower Hamlets) to, most recently, the Chinese ceramics in a local museum (Croydon).
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More on street art

My last post attracted quite a lot of interest.  So my colleague Ariana Issaias and I have produced an article on the legal issues relating to street art: http://www.fladgate.com/street_art/

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Selling Banksy street art

The Banksy “street art” hacked off a wall in Wood Green, North London is back in the press.  The piece, now known as “Slave Labour”, depicts a Third World child working over a sewing machine making Union Jack bunting.
A few months ago it surfaced in Miami, where it was due to be auctioned. In the face of furore and protests from the bereft street art loving people of Wood Green, the piece was withdrawn from the auction.  Now it has returned to London, to be displayed, not far from my office, at the Film Museum in the old flower cellars in Covent Garden, where it is due to be auctioned on 2 June.
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Painting classed as "plant and machinery"

A judge hearing a tax case has held that Sir Joshua Reynolds’ painting Omai can be categorised as plant and machinery, as defined by the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992, and so is exempt from capital gains tax.
The painting was on display at one of England’s grandest stately homes, Castle Howard, which is open to the public,  and was said to be integral to the running of the house as a business.  It could therefore be treated as “apparatus” and in the circumstances the Act makes it clear that it is “deemed” to be a wasting asset that became worthless after 50 years of its acquisition by the business.  If something is “deemed” in law, then court must pretend it to be true, even if it is obviously not.
I’m sure this will be welcome news in the many stately homes that are run as businesses.  On the other hand, it will certainly not be welcome at HM Treasury, and I predict that the Act will be amended.  Until that happens, we might now see more valuable works put on the market, or changing hands to crystallise untaxable gains.
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Sheikh Shaken

The reports of the asset-freezing injunction obtained in London against a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani, for failing to pay for ancient Greek coins, where he had been the successful bidder at a New York auction, has sparked a lot of interest.

The recession and the conduct of the international rich, particularly from China, has caused a serious rise in payment defaults after auctions.  So are asset-freezing orders the answer?

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Back with two updates

I’m sorry it’s been a while since the last post.  My excuse is that I’ve been heavily tied up in a long trial.  My client is a well known Middle Eastern art collector, but the case was about investments other than art, so there’s nothing relevant to post.

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