Spencer's Law Journal

Fellow appraiser Francine Proulx sent me a very good link to a page on Artnet.  It is called Spencer's Art Law Journal, edited by Ronald D. Spencer, attorney and author of The Expert versus the Object (an excellent book on authentication).

According to Spencer, the Art Law Journal will be published three times a year on the Artnet site, and they will post an article per month. All four articles from the first edition are now online.  The authors and topics include:
  • Judith Wallace - Your Art Sold at Christie’s or Sotheby’s Auction. Can the Auctioneer Undo Your Sale Years Later? Probably, Yes
  • Kenneth S. Levine - Insured v. Insurer: When Stolen Art Is Recovered, Who Owns It?
  • Ronald D. Spencer - When Experts and Art Scholars Change Their Minds
  • Arabella Yip - Stolen Art: Who Owns It Often Depends on Whose Law Applies

An excerpt from the Spencer article

Attributions of a work of visual art to a particular artist usually result from a consensus of opinion among art scholars and experts. But it is not uncommon to encounter a work that had been attributed by consensus opinion to an artist, and then, over time, see that consensus change. While, all opinion (expert and otherwise) is subject to change over time as new facts emerge and the cast of experts alters, this is particularly so in the field of visual arts.

There are many examples of this phenomenon. The Rembrandt Research Project, begun in 1968, has reattributed Rembrandt paintings that the Project itself previously deattributed.(FN 1) In January, 2009, Madrid’s Prado Museum publicly announced its decision to remove Francisco Goya’s name from the painting, The Colossus, heretofore considered one of Goya’s most dramatic and famous pictures, and now said to be painted by one of his assistants. And Goya’s "Black Paintings," removed from the walls of his home and also displayed in the Prado museum for many years, may not have been painted by him at all, according to an art historian hired to write on a book on the paintings.(FN 2) The Metropolitan Museum of Art has owned a painting, Portrait of a Man, for sixty years. Since 1917 the painting has been attributed to Velázquez and then deattributed. But now the museum, again, considers it to be by Velázquez ("How does a picture transform itself from a dubious Van Dyck to an indubitable Velázquez, from a Velázquez to a workshop piece back to a Velázquez?") and exhibited it in 2009 as such.(FN 3) A sunflower painting attributed to Vincent van Gogh that broke auction records by selling for nearly $40 million in 1987 is now considered by some experts to be a forgery, while others are certain of its authenticity.(FN 4) These are but a few of the artworks that have fallen into a cyclical pattern of attribution, deattribution, and (sometimes) reattribution.

The oft-changing nature of attributions can have profound legal effects. A buyer may wish to rescind his purchase of artwork, or the Internal Revenue Service might want the new attribution to be reflected in altered income tax liability for the donor. In resolving these conflicts, the consensus of art scholars and experts at a specific point in time is crucial.
To visit the new Spencer's Art Law Journal on Artnet, click HERE.

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