Art and the Law

nterior of a painters studio or gallery with colorful canvases covering a variety of subjects hanging on the wall and an unfinished painting on a wooden easel

As an art lover who is also a lawyer. I took myself off to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art for a couple of days to attend their Art and Law course. The attendees were an eclectic group from all over the globe including lawyers, art historians, curators and those attending for personal development. What followed was an action-packed two days.

First up was the course director who took us through the intricacies of valuing art and how it was important to be completely clear about the purposes of the valuation. This struck a chord with me as in financial cases in divorces valuations are often the bone of contention and to now have more of an understanding of the difference between e.g. a valuation for sale by auction and an insurance valuation is extremely useful. Also with art don’t think that the valuation you had a few years ago is going to be valid now, depending on a range of factors including market conditions and fashion.

Next was the evolving issues arising in connection with street art. What is street art? Is it graffiti amounting to disrepair or is it now a recognized art form. We looked at an interesting case where a Banksy on a wall in Folkestone as part of its art Triennale was cut out on the pretext that this was disrepair and the wall needed to be mended. The court found against the people who removed the painting (but on property law principles not on the intellectual property in the piece which was not considered).

We then heard about the Restitution of stolen or looted art. In 1998 following a conference in Washington certain principles were drawn up and these govern art that had been confiscated. This is not law and prior to 1998, there were no principles. Now when a property is identified as being confiscated every effort is made to identify the heirs of the owner. Sotheby’s has a whole department that works on this. Most cases are dealt with by way of mediation. A tool that many family law practitioners are familiar with.

We then looked at some cases regarding authenticity. I could hardly believe that there would be four experts, maybe more, on each side. I wondered quietly if this was proportionate. The cases seemed to turn on the judge’s analysis of the expert evidence and how the items were described at the time of sale was a statement of fact made or was it merely a matter of opinion.

Next up was an enlightening presentation about online sales and all that flows from that not least jurisdiction issues, I also learnt about cryptocurrency and how this is coming to the fore in this arena. The potential problem of the distant selling legislation and the right to return an item – many small online sellers are not including information about the right to return. This means that the period is extended from 14 days to one year. The presenters thought they were taking a chance that buyers would not know about the right to return, but they were running the risk of a buyer sending back a painting 364 days after purchase.

We finished up with a lively discussion about transparency in the art world v. privacy confidentiality.

Whilst not strictly a course about family law. I found it very interesting and believe some of what I learnt will come into play in my area of the law.

Margaret is a skilled talented and experienced family solicitor and practitioner, qualifying in the UK in 1982, and in Australia in 1985.

She specialises in all aspects of family law from complex financial and children matters to those that are more straightforward. She acts for clients both at the beginning (prenuptial pre-civil partnership agreements) and end of relationships.

She sits as a Deputy District Judge in London and speaks at Family Law conferences both in the UK and internationally as well as training other family law practitioners.

Margaret is a contributing author to the Resolution Family Disputes Hand Book.