Art Law: Auction House Liable in Sale of Fake Expressionist Painting – Update

In an earlier post, I had written about a judgment of the District Court (Landgericht) Cologne that had held the Lempertz auction house liable in relation to the sale of a Campendonk painting forged by Wolfgang Beltracchi. The court ordered Lempertz to hold the buyer harmless for the purchase price in the order of EUR 2.9 Million.  


Two updates:

First, here is the link to the full judgment that sets out why, in the court’s opinion, the auction house should have instructed a forensic expert, even though the painting was included in the Campendonk catalogue raisoné. In short, the court said that the statement in the auction catalogue that the painting was a Campendonk was so strong and unqualified that it had to have a robust foundation – and as the records on the provenance of the painting ware not robust at all, this had to be complemented by a forensic expert opinion.  (Die Beklagte hätte vor Veröffentlichung des Katalogs ein naturwissenschaftliches Gutachten hinsichtlich des vermeintlichen Campendonk-Gemäldes einholen müssen. Entscheidend wirkt sich aus, dass die Beklagte im Katalog vorbehaltlos und ohne jede Einschränkung die Urheberschaft Heinrich Campendonks behauptet hat. (…) Insbesondere weil jegliche Hinweise auf Restzweifel fehlen und die Beklagte ein hohes Renommée genießt, wurde der Klägerin in Anbetracht des tatsächlichen Prüfungsumfangs durch die Beklagte fahrlässig ein nicht zutreffender Eindruck vom Maß der von ihr selbst noch durchzuführenden Nachforschungen vermittelt.)

Secondly, Lempertz had appealed the judgment. According to press reports, however, the matter was settled before the Cologne Court of Appeals (Oberlandesgericht Köln). The settlement included a financial contribution from the Beltracchis. While this appears to be a fair and commercially sensible solution, it would have been interesting to hear what the Court of Appeals had to say about the standards of care (im Verkehr erfordleriche Sorgfalt eines ordentlichen Kaufmanns) that the first instance court applied to the auction house.

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