Monday, October 16, 2006

"A Tangled Artistic Odyssey"

Yesterday's Sacramento Bee had a story on a now-settled lawsuit brought by an artist named Henry Villierme against the John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, CA. Apparently Villierme consigned some paintings to the gallery in 1990, but they ended up being sold -- not as work by Villierme, but by Richard Diebenkorn, who had been Villierme's teacher in the 1950s at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

One interesting question is how to quantify Villierme's damages. On the one hand, he probably had a claim for "conversion," but, as the article points out, "it is difficult to pinpoint the market value of Villierme's paintings, because the artist had been inactive for so long" (he apparently dropped out of the art world "for decades" and worked in a bank). For a recent museum exhbition, two of his paintings were valued for insurance purposes at $35,000 and $18,000. He may also have had a VARA claim -- for use of his name as the author of a work that he did not create -- but it's hard to see how it's damaging for a painter to be mistaken for Diebenkorn. Indeed, the curator of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, is quoted as saying: "I learned about an artist I did not know about. I would be happy to have [one of the Villierme 'Diebenkorn's'] in this museum as a Henry Villierme. It would be pretty wonderful if it would end up here."