5 Fascinating Art Law Cases

By Lucia Hawkes

Case 1: Armory v Delamirie (1722)

The Facts:
Paul Delamirie, the defendant, was a producer of silverworks in the eighteenth century. Armory was a window sweeper’s child. Armory found a jewel and took the jewel to Delamirie’s shop. An apprentice at the shop offered to pay Armory money for the jewel, but then removed the stones without Armory’s authority.

The issue before the court was whether either party had any property rights to the jewel.


The true owner of the jewel was not relevant, the Court was only concerned with who had a better right to possession. The priority of rights to possession say that a finder has better title to property that he or she finds over everyone except the true owner, thus Armory had full title to the jewel.

The Court ruled in favour of Armory. Since the jewel was not produced at the trial, Armory was awarded the maximum value that a jewel of that form could have.


Case 2: Hahn v Duveen (1929)

The Facts:

Joseph Duveen (1869 – 1939) was a British art dealer who was instrumental in expanding the market for Renaissance paintings. As a result of Duveen’s efforts, the great Italian, Dutch, French, and English masters became widely represented in American museums.

In 1921 Duveen was sued by Andrée Hahn for $500,000 following his comments questioning the authenticity of a version of the da Vinci painting La Belle Ferronnière that she owned and had planned to sell. The case raised issues about how attributions are made and how they affect the status and value of paintings. The case of Hahn v Duveen went to trial in New York and attracted a large audience.


The court case took seven years to come to trial and after the first jury returned an open verdict, Duveen agreed to settle, paying Hahn $60,000 plus court costs. The status of the picture remains ambiguous.

The historian John Brewer has examined the case in his publication The American Leonardo: A Tale of Obsession, Art and Money. He writes:

“The case of the American Leonardo puts the question of attribution, expert views and public acceptance in high relief. It also reveals the big trends and microcosm workings of the twentieth-century art world, enabling us to see what is often hidden and to understand what often goes unanalysed. The extraordinary value (both economic and cultural) placed on major works of art and the arenas in which this value is negotiated make such artefacts ripe for manipulation.”

Leonardo da Vinci,  La Belle Ferronnier,  1490-1496  https://www.leonardodavinci.net/la-belle-ferronniere.jsp

Leonardo da Vinci, La Belle Ferronnier, 1490-1496


Case 3: Drake v Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. (2002)

The Facts:

Richard Drake is a Texan businessman. He sued Thomas Agnew & Sons, a fine art dealer in London, claiming that he was sold a fake Sir Anthony van Dyck.

The dispute regards a half-length portrait of James Stuart, Duke of Lennox and Richmond.
Agnew bought the portrait in 1996, at which point experts at Sotheby's had listed as being "After van Dyck". Julian Agnew inspected the painting and decided it was an authentic van Dyck, misattributed by the experts. The painting was bought for £1.5 million by Mr Drake in June 1998, after his buying agent was reassured by Agnew that it was a genuine piece by the Flemish master.  
Sir Oliver Millar (1923 – 2007), a leading expert on van Dyck and Deputy Surveyor to the Royal Collection, believed the painting was completed by an assistant in van Dyck’s studio.
When Drake discovered there were doubts about the painting’s attribution, he took legal action against the dealers. Drake claimed it was an express term of the sale contract that van Dyck painted the portrait, although Agnew claimed it had merely given a statement of opinion.


Drake lost the case. The high court ruled in favour of Thomas Agnew & Sons.
Justice Buckley concluded: "Mr Drake's perception of the sale was the one Mr Callan dishonestly gave him. There never was any guarantee; there never was an undertaking that if there were any problems with the painting Agnew would take it back.”


Case 4: Thwaytes v Sotheby’s (2015)

Above left: Sir Denis Mahon’s version of ‘The Cardsharps’ originally owned by Lancelot Thwaytes. Photo: Sotheby’s

Above right: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio ‘The Cardsharps’ currently on display at the Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

Image source: http://www.privateartinvestor.com/art-law-2/thwaytes-v-sothebys-caravaggio-cardsharps/


The Facts:

Mr Thwaytes inherited The Cardsharps ("the Painting") from a cousin. The Painting is of the same composition as a painting in The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, which is believed to be an original Caravaggio. The Kimbell Cardsharps was discovered by Mina Gregori in 1987. It was attributed to Caravaggio by Sir Denis Mahon, a renowned British historian of Italian art.
In 2006 Mr Thwaytes consigned “the Painting” to Sotheby's to investigate its authenticity. A junior specialist concluded that the painting was a copy of the Kimbell Cardsharps. Another two senior specialists concurred with the attribution. Subsequently, Mr. Thawytes undertook further x-ray analysis to substantiate the claims. Sotheby’s still maintained the work was a seventeenth-century copy. On this advice, Mr. Thwaytes decided to sell the painting, with an estimate of £15,000 - £25,000.

In 2005, the Painting was sold for a hammer price of £42,000. The purchaser was Mrs Orietta Benocci Adam, the partner of Sir Denis Mahon, the scholar that attributed the Kimbell Cardsharps to Caravaggio. Following this, Sir Denis Mahon announced the painting to be a genuine Caravaggio, and was supported by other leading Caravaggio scholars.

The Claim:

Mr Thwaytes brought proceedings against Sotheby's for breach of contract and negligence. Mr Thwaytes did not assert that “the Painting” was by Caravaggio. Instead he alleged that Sotheby's failed adequately to research “the Painting” and failed to notice certain features that should have indicated to them that it had the potential to be a genuine Caravaggio.


The Judge sided with Sotheby’s,
“Sotheby’s were entitled to rely on the connoisseurship and expertise of their specialists in the OMP Department in assessing the quality of “the Painting.” Those specialists were highly qualified and examined “the Painting” thoroughly at the Picture Meeting. They reasonably came to the view, on the basis of what they saw, that the quality of “the Painting” was not sufficiently high to indicate that it might be by Caravaggio. Sotheby's was entitled to rely on its specialists to examine the x-rays of “the Painting” to see if they provided any information which caused them to doubt their assessment of “the Painting” and those specialists reasonably came to the view that there was nothing in the x-rays that should cause them to question their assessment based on quality.”

Mr. Thwaytes's claim was dismissed.


Case 5: Knoedler Gallery Cases (Ongoing)

A Courtroom Sketch of Domenico De Sole's lawyer, Emily Reisbaum, making her opening statement at the Knoedler gallery trial. Image: Elizabeth Williams, courtesy ILLUSTRATED COURTROOM. Sourced from: ‘Top 9 Takeaways from Knoedler Forgery Trial’, Artnet News,    https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/top-takeaways-from-knoedler-forgery-trial-426086

A Courtroom Sketch of Domenico De Sole's lawyer, Emily Reisbaum, making her opening statement at the Knoedler gallery trial.
Image: Elizabeth Williams, courtesy ILLUSTRATED COURTROOM.
Sourced from: ‘Top 9 Takeaways from Knoedler Forgery Trial’, Artnet News,

The Facts:

M Knoedler & Co was an art dealership in New York City, founded in 1846. The gallery's president Ann Freedman resigned in October 2009, amid rumours of problems with fakes involving paintings supplied to the gallery by Long Island art dealer Glafira Rosales. It was discovered that between 1994 and 2011, under the direction of Ann Freedman, the gallery had sold faked paintings of works by Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, among others.

Freedman had purchased the paintings for Knoedler from Glafira Rosales, who had in turn obtained the fake paintings from the art forger Pei-Shen Qian.


While Rosales originally claimed not to have defrauded anyone, in 2013, she pleaded guilty to selling over 60 fake works of art to two New York art galleries, money laundering and tax evasion.

Artnet News reviewed the case, writing:

“The often dramatic and detail-laden testimony of the trial proceedings was riveting for anyone who has followed the scandal in the last few years—whether it was pondering questions about proving authenticity and documenting history of ownership, or the demands of wealthy and understandably furious collectors asking for their money back. Over the course of its short run, the trial raised important, and thorny, issues about how the often secretive art business operates.” (Eileen Kinsella and Sarah Cascone for Artnet News, 12th February 2016)


‘Armory v Delamirie’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armory_v_Delamirie

‘Between Lancelot Thwaytes and Sotheby’s’, England and High Court Chancery Division Decisions,

‘Thwaytes vs. Sotheby’s [2015]’, Boodle Hatfield LLP, http://www.boodlehatfield.com/the-firm/articles/thwaytes-v-sotheby-s-2015-ewhc-36-ch/

‘Case Summary: Hahn v. Duveen’, International Foundation for Art Research, http://www.ifar.org/case_summary.php?docid=1216394429

‘Joseph Duveen, Baron Duveen of Millbank’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Duveen-Baron-Duveen-of-Millbank

‘John Duveen, 1st Baron Duveen’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Duveen,_1st_Baron_Duveen

Bennett, Will, ‘Art collector loses claim against dealer over false Van Dyck’, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1387189/Art-collector-loses-claim-against-dealer-over-false-Van-Dyke.html [9th March 2002]

Brewer, John, The American Leonardo: A Tale of Obsession, Art and Money, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Kennedy, Maev,‘Texan collector fails to get money back for Van Dyck’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/mar/09/world.maevkennedy [9th March 2002]

Kinsella, Eileen and Sarah Cascone, ‘Top 9 Takeaways from Knoedler Forgery Trial’, Artnet News,
https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/top-takeaways-from-knoedler-forgery-trial-426086 [12th February 2016]