NEW YORK—Last month, the Delaware State Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against Christie’s by two collectors who had bought a forged painting at auction in 1986 and sought to have the sale rescinded. The Supreme court agreed with a lower court’s decision that the lawsuit had been lodged too late, years after the statute of limitations expired.
The original claim, filed in 2004 by collectors Johannes and Betty Krahmer, alleged that the auction house had “committed fraud by intentionally concealing that the work of art was not an original.” Later, the plaintiffs added claims of “mutual mistake of fact, negligent misrepresentation, and/or constructive fraud.”
Court Cites Time Limit
Last June a Delaware chancery court said Christie’s “warranty by its express terms created a reasonable inference that . . . claims involving authenticity could only be brought within six years from the date of purchase. Accordingly the court cannot reasonably allow the Krahmers to bring a claim for recision based on a theory of negligence years after expiration of both the applicable statute of limitations and the Christie’s express warranty.” On April 25 the Delaware State Supreme Court issued a brief one-page statement affirming the judgment of the chancery court.
According to the ruling, the Krahmers bought the work, Interior, by American Impressionist painter Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951), at Christie’s in December 1986 for $38,500.
In spring 2002 the Krahmers attempted to sell the painting at Sotheby’s. However, when the work was sent to a restorer for assessment of its condition, the restorer issued an analysis “expressing concern that the painting was not authentic.” Sotheby’s declined to accept the painting for sale.
Christie’s then agreed to have Boston’s Benson Catalogue Raisonné Committee determine the painting’s authenticity. In October 2003 the committee issued a report stating the painting was a fake.
Neither Johannes Krahmer nor his attorney returned ARTnewsletter’s calls seeking comment on the ruling. A Christie’s spokeswoman told ARTnewsletter the auction house is “gratified the court agreed there was no merit to the case.”