Art Historian Found Liable for Incorrect Authentication

Werner Spies, former director Pompidou.

Werner Spies, former director of the Pompidou Center and renowned Max Ernst expert, was found liable for an incorrect authentication of Ernst’s Earthquake (1948) on May 24.  The Tribunal de Grande Instance of Nanterre in France ruled that Spies and dealer Jacques La Beraudiere owed Louis Reijtenbagh €652,883 in damages.  They specifically condemned Spies, making him responsible for the payment and that La Beraudiere pay “up to half the sum.”

The painting was sold by La Beraudiere on September 22, 2004 in Geneva.

Spies stated: “I never issued a certificate [of authenticity].  I’m not an expert, in the French legal sense.  I am an art historian.  I simply wrote the work be included in the catalog raisonne, which is a reference to my own publication.”  The court ruled that Spies’ decision to include the work in the catalog raisonne had the same “value as a certificate of authenticity unconditionally.”

The decision in France sets a new precedent against art experts and introduces liabilities for future academic study in the country.

3 thoughts on “Art Historian Found Liable for Incorrect Authentication

  1. One more brick in the wall separating the need to ascertain authorship for works of value from the dampening effect of potential litigation.

  2. It is worth noting that if the case came to trial in the United States it would have been dismissed. In the US, game changing cases such as Rosen v. Spanierman (1990), Shaheen v. Hahn (1994), and Marchig v. Christie’s (2011), were dismissed by courts who held that the Uniform Commercial Code applies to art transactions. UCC section 2-725 states: “in action for damages based on a breach of warranty of quality or fitness, the claim accrues at the time the breach of the warranty is discovered or reasonably should be discovered.” This establishes the statute of limitations to four years, commencing at the date of sale.

    Since the painting was sold in 2004, Spies would be free from liability in the United States.

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