Art-Collecting Alec

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Alec Baldwin is suing a Manhattan art dealer over a painting that’s not what it appears to be. Arif Khalfe, Commercial Disputes Team Leader with Simpson Millar, examines a case which, like the painting, is a little less straightforward than it might initially seem.

The brotherhood of Baldwin

You wait all day for a Baldwin, then four come along at once. That’s what they used to say, until the collective star of the Brothers B faded and the notion of a Baldwin acting empire quickly slipped from the public consciousness. Nowadays it’s largely Alec, the eldest brother, who continues to tickle the limelight.

And he’s also known for his love of art. One piece of art in particular – Ross Bleckner’s Sea and Mirror. This 1996 painting leapt out at Mr Baldwin the moment he saw it reproduced on his invite to an exhibition of the artist’s work. Baldwin alleges to have carried the reproduced image around with him since, conferring upon it the same reverence as a picture of his daughter and one of his father.

A cool $190,000 for a painting

Enamoured by the “beauty and simplicity” of the work, the unrequited love eventually became too much to bear and in 2010, Mr Baldwin instructed Mary Boone, the art dealer who’d introduced him to the world of Ross Bleckner, to seek out the collector who owned Sea and Mirror and make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Mr Baldwin went on to pay a substantial $190,000, acquiring the artwork for himself.

And there the story should end. The collector’s happy with his sudden windfall, Ms Boone’s happy with her commission and Alec Baldwin is happy with his art. All’s well that ends well.

Except it hasn’t ended well, and Mr Baldwin is far from happy.

The reason for this is that the painting he received is, in fact, just a ‘version’ of the painting by the same artist, which is important to note as it rules out any suggestion of forgery. But a ‘version’ of the painting isn’t what Alec Baldwin paid a cool $190,000 for.

Misled into believing

He asserts he was misled into believing he was getting the original version of Sea and Mirror by Ms Boone, but the art dealer, unable to secure its purchase, convinced Bleckner to take an incomplete work from the same series and finish it so it could be passed off as the original. His suspicions were aroused as the colours weren’t quite the same, the brush strokes lacked the feathery quality he’d admired, and it smelt new. An independent Sotheby’s expert later confirmed that the painting wasn’t the 1996 original.

In her defence, Ms Boone has claimed that Mr Baldwin was aware all along that it wasn’t the original painting he’d be receiving.

Arif Khalfe comments:

“In what is a far from a straightforward case, Mr Baldwin is reportedly suing for a difference in the value of the two paintings, along with the costs that bringing his action will incur. Had it been a case of forgery it would’ve been a lot clearer cut, with criminal charges being brought against the dealer if they’d knowingly sold a fake.”

“In this instance though, where the item is an ‘original’ by the same artist, there is no forgery to speak of and with no criminal proceedings being brought, Mr Baldwin has had to resort to civil action.”

“Had this happened in the UK, the dealer might’ve found themselves under investigation by either Trading Standards or the police. If it was shown there was enough evidence to support the claim, they could have found themselves prosecuted for Fraud by False Representation (Section 2, Fraud Act 2006) or under Consumer Protection Regulations (CPRs).”

“Fraud by False Representation covers business transactions, as well as arrangements between individuals and decrees an offence to have taken place if a person has gained by presenting an item as something it is not. CPRs, which replaced the Trade Descriptions Act, cover the same area but are used specifically between a consumer and a business.”

“It’s early days in the Baldwin lawsuit and, at present, there seems to be a little bit of ‘he said, she said’ about it all. We will have to wait until this one reaches court and all the evidence is made available to see how it pans out.”

Written by Arif Khalfe

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