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Reinier W.L. Russell is managing partner of the law firm of Russell
Advocaten B.V. He assists domestic and foreign businesses in the
Netherlands with corporate and commercial matters including
litigation. In addition to art law, he deals with business formation and
reorganization, corporate governance, insolvency law, employment
issues, real estate issues and all aspects of liability and contract law.
Russell Advocaten has worked for many years with international art
law issues, representing collectors, art dealers, museums and artists
from all over the world.
Russell Advocaten B.V.
Reimersbeek 2
1082 AG Amsterdam
The Netherlands
+31 20 301 55 55 Phone
+31 20 301 56 78 Fax
Reinier W.L. Russell
Many pension funds, companies, banks
and private individuals have bought
works of art or even built art collections
in recent years. The most important
aspect is undoubtedly the aesthetic
pleasure: you can sit back and admire
a painting, a photograph or a sculpture
whenever you want. The fact that the art
market has been less affected by the eco-
nomic crisis than other sectors is surely
a pleasant bonus. However, art collectors
may be confronted with legal issues that
can have an impact on the value of their
Buying at Auctions
The art world has its own unique way
of doing business. Purchase and sale
often take place at auctions and by
consignment. Auction houses usually
act as intermediaries between sellers
and buyers. The same applies to art
dealers selling art on consignment. A
purchase agreement, however, is entered
into between buyer and seller. So who
is the seller? Is it the auctioneer or the
art dealer the artwork was consigned
to? Or is it the owner? In the latter case
there is no intermediary. That may not
be completely insignificant as it can
make a big difference for the buyer
if he can turn to the auctioneer or art
dealer he is familiar with, or if he has
to contact an unknown seller in case
any problems arise. A smart buyer
should know who the actual seller is
before making a purchase, and if he has
actually empowered the intermediary he
is dealing with to conclude the purchase.
Major auction houses usually do not
disclose the names of the seller to the
purchaser. This might lead to problems
if a purchaser has a claim against a
seller. If an intermediary does not wish to
disclose the seller's name, the intermedi-
ary is presumed to be acting on his or her
own behalf. In this case, a claim against
the intermediary can be initiated. How-
ever, the custom of not disclosing the
name of the seller can lead to unpleasant
surprises if a work of fine art later turns
out to be stolen. Usually, the general
terms and conditions of auction houses
exclude any liability for this. However,
this liability exclusion clause is only
applicable to professional art buyers
and usually not to private individuals.
Russell Advocaten has been active over
the last decades in numerous cases
defending the interests of both interna-
tional auction houses as well as (private
or professional) buyers and sellers from
many countries.
Origins Unknown
Before buying, it is very important
to conduct research concerning the
provenance of the artwork and to gather
information with regard to its market
value. The lack of provenance or gaps
in a work of art's provenance can be
an indication for a forged or stolen
work of art.
The price can also indicate problems
when works of art are offered for sale at
a price below the market value, but well
above the price for an imitation. Another
shady situation is when an art dealer sells
works of art that were consigned to him
but does not forward the proceeds to the
commissioner. A striking example of this
is New York art dealer Lawrence Salander
who embezzled tens of millions of dollars
from his commissioners. Depending on
the country in which the transaction takes
place, the bona fide purchaser will be
protected against claims by the original,
duped owner. At the moment, we are
defending such a bona fide purchaser of a
work of art that may originally have been
sold at an auction by Salander.
Art and Business Law
Europe, Middle East & Africa