Buying, selling and viewing art is one of life's great pleasures. But it is also a sophisticated business that requires the very best legal advice.We advise 40% of the 200 top art dealers listed in ARTnews Top Collectors publication, as well as many of the world’s leading collectors. We have been involved in a number of the highest profile matters of recent times including the controversial “Canyon” case and the Richard Prince litigation. We work with many of the world's leading international galleries and museums. Working for many of the most successful people and cultural institutions in the world means much of what we do is confidential. But it’s fair to say that our connections among our client base provide us with sector expertise that is unmatched by most other law firms.
Protecting your successWe are the largest law firm in the world championing the interests of successful individuals and families. Whether you are deal making, tax planning or fighting to protect your investment, we have the right lawyers around the world to help. Art law partner Diana Wierbicki is listed by artnetnews as one of the world’s most highly-influential art lawyers focusing on structuring transactions, while Dean Nicyper on the litigation side has advised on the two biggest art fraud cases in the past decade and helps one of two largest art auction houses in dozens of lawsuits concerning authenticity and the purchase, loaning and movement of art. On the litigation side in London, Eleni Polycarpou has over 10 years’ experience of dealing with all kinds of art related disputes both in litigation and in arbitration, including two of the most well-known stolen art cases and restitution cases plus all kinds of title, authenticity and consignment disputes acting for collectors, artists, art galleries, art insurers, dealers and auctioneers. She has been listed as a leading individual by various legal directories for her expertise in this sector, with 2020 guides stating that ‘Eleni Polycarpou is an exceptional litigation solicitor – immensely experienced and very knowledgeable in this quite specialist field. Apart from anything else, she is a considerate person, with great client management skills’. This experience and understanding of the market has proved invaluable when advising individuals, galleries and institutions on both contentious and non-contentious art matters.
Art meets fashionThe lines between art and fashion have always been blurred but arguably never more so than today. As the law firm for successful people, fashion is a major area of work for us and we’ve worked on some of the world’s ultimate collaborations between high fashion and art.
Cultural institutionsWe have a long history of representing museums, libraries and other important cultural institutions. Our in-depth understanding of the legal issues faced in this specialist area is enhanced by many of our lawyers serving or having served on various boards of directors, as in-house counsel and trustee.
How we can help
Acquiring fine art has always been rewarding, and now it’s increasingly also being used as loan collateral. Our global team is best placed to advise on how to monetize an art collection.Art litigation
Our art lawyers can help with the negotiation, arbitration, mediation and litigation of disputes. We aim to find a consensual resolution, but will strongly defend your interests if required.Buying and selling art
Years of experience working with the world’s top dealers, collectors, and institutions make us the go-to law firm to advise on international art transactions and related issues such as tax.Copyright and design
Groundbreaking creators should be rewarded. Our copyright and design team advises fashion designers, artists, sports stars, manufacturers and others on ways to protect and monetize their work.
Whether you wish to protect family assets, navigate cross-border tax issues or benefit a good cause, our private client lawyers will discuss your priorities, advise on options and put a plan in place.Museum exhibitions
Our lawyers work with top museums and cultural institutions across the globe, so we can advise on everything from business planning, to fundraising, and dealing with issues such as copyright.Philanthropy
There is no single approach to philanthropy; what’s key is that your giving has the biggest impact possible. Whichever way you choose to donate, our team can advise on what is most effective.Representing cultural institutions
Our lawyers work with the world’s top commercial galleries and art advisors, with our extensive legal services including advice on income and sales tax, purchase agreements, and consignment.
With a team of more than 150 specialist tax lawyers, who are qualified in jurisdictions around the world, we are perfectly placed to handle even the most complex, cross-border tax issues.Tax investigations and controversy
Any controversy around tax can be damaging. With years of experience acting in high-stakes investigations and litigation, and as regulators themselves, our team can help you navigate through.Wealth structuring
We help individuals, families and their advisors to plan for the future, establishing priorities and finding solutions. And we offer seamless support for those with international interests.
High profile dispute involving "Asia's Fort Knox"
Represented the owner of the Singapore Freeport, Worldwide VGS B.V. ("Worldwide") controlled by Mr Yves Bouvier who is an internationally recognised Swiss businessman and art dealer, in relation to damages arising from contractual breach of the purchase of the Singapore Freeport.
Represented Tate Gallery on a ground-breaking collaboration and exhibition with Shanghai's Pudong Museum to help Tate negotiate with the state-owned Shanghai Lujiazui Group and advised on English and Chinese law contracts.
Online art dealer setting up an Italian company
Assisted an online art dealer in setting up an Italian company involved in pooling investments in art. The company would also offer NFTs. Our advice focuses on the opportunity of setting up a start-up or an innovative Small-Mid enterprise (SME) as well as on the VAT aspects of using a "margin scheme" and the eventual implications arising from the sale of NFTs.
Division of £500million art collection for private collector
During divorce proceedings, we advised an art collector with respect to the division of his £500million art collection. Matters covered included the adequate preservation of retained art works, the disposal of those works neither wished to retain, as well as inter-jurisdictional tax-related issues of import and export.
Claim for the full recovery of the value of a damaged sculpture
We advise a London gallery in relation to a claim against their storage company for breach of contractual, common law and tortious duties, following the damage of a multimedia sculpture whilst in the storage company's possession. The dispute is centred on whether the storage company's terms and conditions were validly incorporated in the contractual relationship between the parties.
Defending a damages claim for conversion
We are defending an auction house in relation to a claim for conversion brought by a gallery's insurers. The insurers argue that the catalogue description of a 19th century sculpture sold at auction in 2015 matched the records of a stolen sculpture from their client's gallery, and are thus seeking damages equal to the amount they paid to the gallery when the sculpture was stolen.
Dispute over consigned modern bronze statue
We advised an art collector who was jointly sued with Sotheby's by a buyer and his representative. The claimants sought the rescission of the sale agreement, the return of the purchase price and/ or damages for the loss suffered on the grounds of the statue being a posthumous rather than lifetime cast. We secured a settlement for our client and in the end the parties settled on amicable terms.
Estates, art and inheritance tax implications
We advise the executors and beneficiaries of estates on the tax implications of legacies to charity. We recently obtained valuations of a painting already left under a will to a gallery in order to assess the size of the additional cash legacy which would need to be paid to charity to enable the estate to qualify for the reduced inheritance tax rate of 36%- which applies when 10% of an estate is left to charity. The reduced inheritance tax can be of benefit to the chargeable residuary beneficiaries.
Favourable settlement for a London art dealer
We secured a favourable settlement for a London-based art dealer regarding a potential fraudulent misrepresentation claim against a New York dealer, who co-owned a sculpture by Franz West with our client. Our client learnt that the true purchase price had only been a fraction of what his co-owner had disclosed to him, leading our client to pay an unjustified additional sum of money.
Estate of renowned European contemporary artist
Withers represented the estate of a renowned European contemporary artist in seeking to bring about the return of numerous artworks that had not been returned by a German gallery following the artist's death in the mid-2000's.
London art dealer in dispute with Italian collector
We acted for a London based art dealer against an Italian collector in a dispute relating to the sale of two Old Master paintings that they jointly owned. Proceedings were brought in London and Geneva, and subsequently settled following extensive negotiations.
Potential claim by the Italian State on the ownership of a Roman marble relief
We acted for the trustees of an estate in advising on a potential claim by the Italian State to the ownership of a Roman era fragment marble relief. The relief was purchased in the 1960s in Switzerland and passed to the state following the death of the purchaser. Having been put up for sale by the trustees, it was spotted at an art fair as being linked to a number of other reliefs that had been seized by the Italian authorities having been illegally excavated in the early 2000s. Withers assisted the trustees in bringing about the restitution of the relief to Italy.
Renowned industrial designer in proceedings against a former business associate
We represented a company related to a renowned industrial designer in English and New York proceedings against a former business associate who had defaulted on a loan and misappropriated numerous artworks belonging to the company. The proceedings were settled with, amongst other matters, a significant number of the artworks being returned to their rightful owner.
Saudi Arabian contemporary artist in a claim against an auction house and a Dubai based gallery
We represented one of Saudi Arabia's leading contemporary artists in a multi-jurisdictional claim against an auction house and a Dubai based gallery. The claim derived from the unauthorized selling of one of the artist's own artworks by the Dubai gallery at an auction. The matter was successfully settled.
Prominent New York historical museum
Provided ongoing pro-bono work for a prominent New York historical museum.
Revolving demand loan secured by artwork
Advised an international bank on a revolving demand loan secured by artwork to an individual borrower. This is the Bank's first loan of this kind in Asia. We drafted the loan agreement and all security documents.
A major international gallery
We successfully represented a major international gallery in a lawsuit claiming art that it exhibited on behalf of an artist it represented violated the copyright rights of a photographer.
Employment visas and green cards
We routinely represent individuals of extraordinary ability in business, sciences and art in obtaining employment visas and green cards.
Major art forgery
Represented an art collector who purchased what was represented to be a painting by a well-known American painter, but which was revealed to be one of many forged paintings in a major art forgery scandal. In a similar case, Withers London acted for a collector against an auction house when he discovered that they had been selling numerous paintings by the same forger.
USD$100 million Industry-wide art fraud
We represented a major art lender in exposing a dealer who committed an industry-wide fraud, and successfully represented the lender in several follow on cases to clean up multiple competing title claims and insurance recoveries.
Los Angeles-based museums
We advised a US museum concerning the structure and receipt of complex gifts.
LCIA arbitration in art sector
Advised a company specialising in buying and selling art in an LCIA arbitration dispute over the ownership of a Monet painting under Swiss law.
Institute of Contemporary Arts
We offer general employment and employee benefits advice, supplementing the HR function at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Family trust set up to own art
We are advising in a dispute over the ownership of over 300 paintings worth approximately £13 million belonging to a company owned by a family trust. One of the beneficiaries of the trust, who had been custodian of the art, sold a number of works to auction houses as security for loans and we are currently negotiating the return of the remaining artworks. The works of art include paintings by Picasso, Renoir and Matisse.
Art theft case for underwriters
Following the alleged theft of nine old master paintings from a European art gallery, we represented insurance underwriters in a fraud claim relating to the art work, and resulting in a successful settlement.
International art lending project
We assisted our client by drafting loan agreements to over 100 museums and institutions both locally and globally and for several renowned New York City museum exhibits.
A large international auction house
Withers’ pre-eminent reputation in the art world led a highly respected auction house to ask for our help with a series of multi-jurisdiction lawsuits. The fascinating case concerned one of the world’s largest tribal art collections, which was subject to competing ownership claims by siblings, as well as being pledged as collateral for a loan and donated to a museum.
An art heir
We represented the son and heir of a well-known American painter in cases arising out of a major art fraud worth an estimated $100 million. Our client had been among numerous victims of a Manhattan dealer who had committed the deceit to fund his extravagant lifestyle.
20 December 2022 | Article
Are Alternative Dispute Resolution ('ADR') mechanisms the way to resolve cultural property disputes?
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