Tuesday, January 5, 2016

More on the case of David Joel's disputed Monet: A French court decides

Following my past postings on the case of the Monet (left) owned by British art collector David Joel (see links  at the foot of this post), which was the subject of a 2011 BBC Fake or Fortune documentary, I received the email (below) from a French law firm.

Mr Joel had sought, through litigation in the French courts, to overturn the decision by the Wildenstein Institute's Monet Committee to exclude the painting, Les bords de la Seine à Argentueilfrom the Monet catalogue raisonné, an exclusion originally made by the late Daniel Wildenstein. As many people are aware, exclusion from the catalogue raisonné generally amounts to a death sentence on a painting.

The letter from Clément Reyne of French law firm TILDER reads as follows:

Dear Sir, 
As you wrote on the subject, I think this information may interest you:

During the Fake or Fortune programme on the BBC of 19 June 2011, Fiona Bruce and Anthony Mould (sic), claimed that a riverscape entitled 
La Seine à Argenteuil belonging to David Joel was incorrectly omitted from the two editions of the Monet catalogue raisonné by Daniel Wildenstein and that the Wildenstein Monet Committee in Paris was obstinately refusing to nullify the late author’s decision not to include it in the corpus of works he believed to be by the master himself and not by a forger or imitator.

In recent years, David Joel brought lawsuits in the French courts to force the Wildenstein Institute to nullify Daniel Wildenstein’s decision to exclude the painting and to declare it authentic. The rulings, including the most recent, which is definitive, were not in Daniel Joel's favour. (sic)

I am enclosing the ruling of the Appeals Court which was rendered on 15 December 2015. 

Yours sincerely, 

Clément REYNE
28, rue Bayard 75008 PARIS

For some of us, the question still remains as to whether the Institute's determination to exclude this work might be motivated by the embarrassment that would be caused by reversing a firm decision made years ago by the late Daniel Wildenstein (1917-2001), once described by Vanity Fair as "the richest and most powerful art dealer on earth." There are few if any precedents for the family revising previously articulated positions, but plenty of evidence that they will do almost anything to reinforce them.

The Wildenstein sons have always gone to great lengths to defend their forebears. The Vanity Fair article revealed how Alec Wildenstein : "...tries to defend his grandfather and father [Georges and Daniel] with their version of events. In fact, friends say that this is the story of Alec’s life—doing what Daniel tells him to." Another associate of the family goes further: "'In some ways it is very difficult for them to think that they are wrong' [...] 'It is about winning,' says one art expert. 'Daniel has to win.'"

It may seem a minor detail, but nor is one inspired by the typographical errors in the court judgement, which at one point states: "...il n'est pas indifférent de relever que dés 1892, interrogé par la maison de vente Christie's David Wildenstein (sic) avait refusé de considérer l'oeuvre comme un authentique de Claude Monet et de le mentionner dans le catalogue raisonné de Claude Monet." We assume they mean Daniel Wildenstein. And Mr Mould is Philip Mould, not Anthony, and Mr Joel is David Joel, not Daniel.

One thing that has emerged from the court case is that we now know who sits on (or at any rate is consulted by) the all-powerful Monet Committee for the Wildenstein Institute in making its judgements. According to the court papers, the Committee that pronounced the Joel painting as inauthentic (thereby forcing Mr Joel to pay an "indemnity" of €10,000 to Guy Wildenstein and the Wildenstein Institute!) draws on the expertise of, inter alia, Joachim Pissarro (grandson of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro); New York-based art historian and former museum curator Charles F. Stuckey; and Professor Richard Brettell of the University of Texas at Dallas.

These gentlemen have all thus denied the relevance of the forensic science and the compelling provenance evidence revealed by the BBC documentary, to say nothing of contradicting the disinterested endorsement of other leading scholarly Monet authorities, including the late Professor John House of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and Professor Paul Hayes Tucker of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, to name just two.

Now a Renoir joins the exiled works.

Does Daniel continue to rule the dynasty, even from beyond the grave?

Artknows Archive on this topic:

Followers of the Wildenstein family may also be interested in the following links:

Wildenstein Trial to Lift a Veil on Opaque Art World Dealings (New York Times International, 21 December 2015)

Wildenstein Gallery is beset by lawsuits (New York Times, April 2011)

Art Dealer Guy Wildenstein Caught Up In €600 Million Tax Evasion Case (Artnet News, 18 September 2014)

Bitter Spoils (Vanity Fair, 28 February, 1998)