Jul 25, 2018

A high court in London upheld a decision to ban export of a £10-million Giotto painting, rendering it “unsellable.”

With yet another bit of litigation, a cherished painting by a Renaissance master will remain in legal limbo. On Monday, a judge at a high court of justice in London upheld a previous decision by the Arts Council England that said that Madonna con Bambino, a rediscovered work by Giotto valued at £10 million ($13.1 million), was taken out of Italy illegally and must remain in storage in the U.K. The owner of the work, Kathleen Simonis, has for years been seeking to export it to Switzerland, but multiple rulings have asserted that the export licence she received in 1999—after the painting, which was originally thought to be an 18th century copy and was purchased for just £3,500 in 1990 ($6,400), was declared by experts to be a real Giotto painted in c. 1297—had expired in 2004, making her transport of the work to the U.K. in 2007 illegal.
It is unclear what will happen with the work, but Alexander Herman, the assistant director of the Institute of Art and Law, spoke with The Guardian and explained that the ruling does not make it clear that the painting must be returned to Italy, which places it in a bit of a legal limbo. But even without any call for artistic extradition, the controversy surrounding the work will make it tough to find a buyer. “For now the painting is effectively unsellable,” Herman told The Guardian. “The only potential buyer would have to be U.K.-based, someone who doesn’t mind the stink of it having been unlawfully exported from Italy.”
A lawyer for Simonis argued that, because both Italy and the U.K. are in the European Union, she could move the painting between member states. “That is in the very DNA of E.U. law,” the lawyer added.But the court did not buy this argument, and regardless, Herman noted that such a strategy may be rendered moot should England ever officially complete Brexit.