Sotheby’s Ordered by New York Court to Reveal Consignor and Buyer of Tiepolo Painting - The World News

Sotheby’s Ordered by New York Court to Reveal Consignor and Buyer of Tiepolo Painting

A New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that Sotheby’s must reveal both the consigner and the buyer of a Giovanni Battista Tiepolo painting purchased in 2019 that may become subject to a restitution claim, according to the New York Times.

Three heirs of a Jewish art dealer named Otto Fröhlich say the painting, St. Francis of Paola Holding a Rosary, Book, and Staff, was lost during the Holocaust when Fröhlich fled Austria to escape the Nazis in 1938. The heirs need the names of the buyer and the seller to pursue the claim, according to the suit. 

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Museum facade.

Experts told the Times that while courts have in the past directed an auction house to reveal one of the two parties involved in a sale, it’s rare for both names to be revealed.

“This case certainly establishes clear precedent that where heirs provide support for their claims of restitution, auction houses will be required to disclose the names and contact information of the buyers and sellers of the claimed looted art and cannot hide behind confidentiality policies to refuse to do so,” said Geri S. Krauss, the lawyer for the Fröhlich heirs told the Times.

Sotheby’s rescinded the sale last year. The auction house is in possession of the work and is in discussions with the Fröhlich heirs and the heirs of another former owner, Adele Fischel, who court documents say owned the painting before her cousin, Otto Fröhlich.

“Sotheby’s remains committed to reaching an amicable resolution with all parties involved and is presently engaged in discussions with representatives of the Fröhlich and Fischel families who assert competing claims to the Tiepolo,” the auction house said in a statement.

While the decision may set a new precedent for how auction houses handle the high level of privacy that has become an industry standard, it’s unlikely to happen overnight. In an affidavit the Sotheby’s worldwide head of restitution Lucian Simmons said that confidentiality is more than “merely a matter of policy” and that the auction house couldn’t disclose their client’s identities without their “express permission.” 

Justice Arlene P. Bluth, who wrote the decision ordering Sotheby’s to reveal the Tiepolo’s buyer and seller, said Sotheby’s failed to provide the court a copy of its confidentiality agreement or binding case law that proves it can legally withhold the names of buyers and sellers. 

“While it is understandable that respondent would not freely disclose buyers and sellers to anyone who asks,” Justice Bluth wrote. “That, standing alone, is not a reason to deny petitioners’ requests for relief.”

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