Court of Appeal Decision on Fine Art Dispute

26 November, 2020

On Monday, the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in Sotheby’s v (1) Mark Weiss Ltd (2) Fairlight Art Ventures LLP [2020] EWCA Civ 1570. The case concerned a painting that was sold as a work by Frans Hals for US$10.75m in 2011 and subsequently alleged to be counterfeit. The issues on appeal went to the question of whether Fairlight (the Appellant) was bound by Sotheby’s rescission of that sale contract in 2016.

Over the course of 2 days, the Court considered the application of general issues in the specific art market context: Was there privity of contract between Sotheby’s and Fairlight? Were Fairlight and Mark Weiss in partnership? It also had to consider issues that were specific to Sotheby’s private treaty terms: Did the Generally Accepted Views clause apply? Could the buyer rely on the Authenticity Guarantee in circumstances where it had subsequently sold and re-purchased the painting? The issues on appeal did not concern the issue of authenticity (as to which the first instance court did not need to reach a conclusion).

All three parties were represented by members of Essex Court Chambers:

The Appellant was represented by James Collins QC, instructed by James Atton of Mackrell Solicitors.

The First Respondent, Sotheby’s was represented by Nathan Pillow QC and Emily Wood, instructed by David Scott, Emily Knight and Eid-Daniel Jadon of  Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP.

The Second Respondent, Mark Weiss Ltd, was represented by Joe Smouha QC and Claudia Renton, instructed by Roland Foord and Caleb Bompas of Stephenson Harwood LLP.

By Judgment dated 23 November 2020, the appeal was dismissed. A copy of the Judgment can be found here.