French owner loses case in Monet attribution claim

2015 ended on a bitter note for the owner of a riverscape purportedly by French Impressionist Claude Monet when the Paris Court of Appeal refused his request to force the inclusion of the work in the artist’s catalogue raisonné.

The court reached its verdict in December after a tenaciously contested attribution battle which enlisted the help of experts including Joachim Pissarro, great grandson of Camille Pissarro, and researchers from the BBC’s Fake or Fortune programme. 

‘Les Bords de Seine à Argenteuil’, which is dated 1875 on its frame was rejected by art dealer and collector Daniel Wildenstein in 1982 after he was approached by Christie’s. After it failed to sell at auction and was bought in at £500,000, its current owner David Joel bought the painting privately in 1993 for €50,000 (£37,185).

Despite Joel’s insistence that the work is genuine, the Wildenstein Institute, the non-profit arm of the Wildenstein family’s art business, excluded the painting from its Monet catalogue raisonné. Consequently, Joel filed suit in France calling on the court to force the Institute to include the painting in its catalogue. He lost the case in 2014 and his appeal was quashed last month.

In the lead up to the case, Joel gathered compelling evidence of the painting’s authenticity. In June 2011, the work appeared on the BBC’s Fake or Fortune programme. Their researchers found an illustration of the painting in Monet’s obituary in Le Figaro and traced its provenance all the way back to Monet’s dealer George Petit. Among those who support a positive attribution are the late Courtauld Institute of Art Professor John House and Professor Paul Hayes Tucker, considered one of America’s foremost authorities on Claude Monet and Impressionism.

Refusing to change its mind, the Institute pointed to its own considerable expert evidence. Eminent art historians who reject the painting’s authenticity include Joachim Pissarro, Charles Stuckey and Richard Brettell.

Handing down judgment, the French court was at pains to point out that it was not seeking to establish whether the painting could be definitively attributed to Monet. Rather, it sought to determine if it could force the Institute to include a work in its catalogue, which it did not believe to be genuine.

The Wildenstein art-dealing dynasty may have emerged victorious in this case but it remains to be seen whether it can survive one of the biggest tax fraud trials ever held in France of the heirs to the family’s fortune.

For another hotly contested attribution, take a look here.

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