Art Market

Frank Bowling is locked in a $39.2-million legal battle with his former London gallery.

Justin Kamp
Aug 24, 2020 4:24PM, via Evening Standard

A visitor to the 2018 edition of Art Basel in Basel examines a work by Frank Bowling. Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images.

The painter Frank Bowling is currently locked in a £30-million ($39.2 million) legal battle with London-based Hales Gallery, with both parties accusing the other of breach of contract. The 86-year-old artist alleged that the gallery, which represented him from 2010 to 2019, has wrongly held on to 110 of his paintings, cumulatively valued at £14 million ($18.3 million), and has continued to sell his work despite the alleged termination of their partnership in October of last year. Bowling additionally accused the gallery of failing to keep him updated on the status of his artworks and finances, claiming that he is owed at least £1.8 million ($2.3 million) in sales.

In a statement provided to Artsy, Tim Bignell, an attorney for Bowling and partner at the London-based firm Howard Kennedy, said:

Mr Bowling terminated his contract with Hales Gallery in October 2019, because of its serious breaches of Hales Gallery’s agreement with him, including in particular its failure to account to him for funds received on his behalf from the sale of his paintings. Since then Mr Bowling has repeatedly asked for a proper account from Hales Gallery and for more than 100 of his paintings to be returned to him. [...] Mr Bowling is distressed that at this stage in his life he is forced, despite ill-health, to bring these proceedings against Hales, to recover a significant proportion of his life’s work as well as large sums which are due to him. The Bowling family is united in support of Frank’s determination to see his work returned to him.

Hales Gallery claimed that the legal dispute, along with Bowling’s sudden termination of his contract last year, is part of an effort by the artist’s sons, Ben and Sacha, to wrest control of Bowling’s estate from his wife Rachel Scott. Ben and Sacha, along with two friends, were appointed as Bowling’s new managers in March of 2019 to “secure his creative legacy” and “reduce the administrative burden” on Bowling and Scott, according to the Evening Standard. The gallery claimed they had no legitimate grounds on which to terminate the partnership, and has filed a countersuit for up to £14 million ($18.3 million) in lost commissions and damages.

Bobby Friedman, a lawyer representing Hales Gallery, said in defense papers filed in London’s High Court:

Ms. Scott continued to want to act as the driving force for Mr Bowling’s artistic career and legacy. However, Ben and Sacha wished to side-line their step mother. The tactics employed by them (and particularly by Ben) in trying to wrestle control from her included casting doubt on her mental faculties as a result of her age. Such statements had no basis in reality.

A statement on behalf of Bowling has denied claims of a power struggle.

Bowling, who was born in present-day Guyana when it was still known as British Guiana, was the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Britain last year. Demand for his work has steadily grown on both the primary and secondary markets. In June of last year, SFMOMA acquired his enormous 2018 painting Elder Sun Benjamin with funds from the sale of a Mark Rothko canvas. The same month, his 1963 painting Beggar No. 3 came to auction in a day sale of modern British art at Christie’s and surpassed its high estimate of £80,000 ($100,000) by a factor of more than eight, selling for £695,250 ($874,000)—still the record price for Bowling’s work at auction.

Updated: August 24th, 2020

This article has been revised to incorporate a statement from an attorney representing Frank Bowling that was provided to Artsy.

Justin Kamp