Trials & Litigation

Case of lost painting offers lessons in auction law; will buyer get $43K for missing $21K artwork?

A little over a year ago, a New Orleans art broker purchased an impressionist painting at a Maryland auction for $21,500.

However, the nearly 100-year-old painting by Ellsworth Woodward disappeared before the buyer, Amanda Winstead, could collect it. She sued and was awarded $43,500 by a New Orleans court, even though she never paid for the painting because it went missing before she had time to do so, reports the Washington Post (reg. req.).

The damages award relies on an interpretation of property law that says ownership of the artwork passed to Winstead at the fall of the hammer, the newspaper explains. The higher damages amount of $43,500 was calculated based on the selling price of another Woodward painting, with the idea that Winstead could have turned a profit on the painting.

Stephanie Kenyon, an owner of the auction house that sold the painting, is fighting to overturn the court verdict. She says a sale isn’t legally completed until the auction house receives the buyer’s check, processes the order and delivers the artwork.

Her lawyer, Joe Myers, also points to the bidder contract signed by Winstead, which says disputes must be decided in federal court in Maryland and limits liability to the amount paid.

Meanwhile, the location of the painting remains a mystery. Kenyon says it was simply misfiled amongst Sloans & Kenyon’s vast collection.

“When it turns up, we’ll certainly let everybody know,” she tells the Post.

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