An interesting talk was held last night by the Chancery Bar Association in London on the topic of art law. And it was an esteemed panel that considered the topic from a variety of angles. Lord Justice Geoffrey Vos, judge at the Court of Appeal, introduced the proceedings by querying the term ‘art law’ itself, noting that he had himself been the judge in the important art law case of Accidia v Simon Dickinson (a fact he’d apparently forgotten!), which dealt with secret commissions gained by art dealers and the requirement to report these commissions to their principals.
The first speaker on the panel was Luke Harris from 5 Stone Buildings, who discussed the legal issues around conditional gifts of works of art at common law. He was followed by Adrian Parkhouse of Farrer & Co – the supposed ‘light relief’ – who did no less than challenge the pervading secrecy that rules the art world. Funny, he said, the amount of paperwork involved in purchasing a car, when a painting worth millions can be sold on an invoice, with no regulatory involvement whatsoever. The final speaker was Richard Edwards QC of 3 Verulam Buildings, who gave an exhaustive (but by no means exhausting) overview of the law as it relates to the attribution of works of art, beginning with the ancient case of Desenfans v Vandergucht (1787), involving a sub-par “Poussin”, and bringing things up to date with last year’s dispute over a putative Caravaggio, Thwaytes v Sotheby’s.
Each talk highlighted its own particular segment – gifts, title, connoisseurship – of this much larger domain. In conclusion, Geoffrey Vos was led to exclaim that indeed there was such a thing as art law, and that its challenges and complexities were certainly worthy of further examination.