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Romanian Painting Sparks Lawsuit Two Years after Sale

Clayton Pennington | November 7th, 2013

More than two years after winning a painting at an auction, a buyer is suing the auction house, claiming that the Association of Art Critics of Romania has concluded that the painting is not authentic.

A suit filed on November 7, 2013, in the Supreme Court of New York, County of Westchester, claims that Andreea Voicu-Jiquidi of Bucharest, Romania paid $48,000 for a Nicolae Tonitza painting at an April 3, 2011, auction conducted by Butterscotch Auction Gallery in Bedford Village, New York.

The painting was a still life depicting pipes and books on a tabletop. The oil on canvas was estimated at $30,000/50,000.

After winning the painting, Voicu-Jiquidi wired $48,000 to Butterscotch Auction Gallery to pay for it. Three months later, Voicu-Jiquidi sent digital prints to the Association of Art Critics of Romania. After reviewing digital prints, and later the painting, Pavel Susara rendered his verdict: “It cannot be accepted as being authentic.” The report notes that “based on solely digital images, the work cannot be dated” and “based on the digital images, the condition is fine.”

Voicu-Jiquidi is claiming breach of agreement, unjust enrichment, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligent misrepresentation.

Tonitza (1886-1940) was a Romanian painter, journalist, and art critic.

The provenance in the catalog noted that the painting once belonged to Iancu Saraga (b. 1876), owner of Galeries Lafayette in Bucharest, then to Stefanie Saraga, his daughter, and then to her son. Another Tonitza in the same sale, 3 Dolls, from the same estate, sold for $31,200.

In late December, Brian Belowich, the attorney for Butterscotch Auction Gallery, filed a motion to dismiss the case. “[Butterscotch Auction Gallery] acted as a limited agent for purposes of selling the Painting at an estate auction for a disclosed principal (specifically the family of the ‘Late Stefanie Saraga’); and…Defendant expressly disclaimed all guarantees and warranties in connection with the sale of the painting.” The conditions of sale noted that all property was sold “as is, and neither we nor the consignor make any guaranties, warranties, or representations, express or implied, with respect to the property or the correctness of the listing.”

“It is well settled that an auctioneer, when acting as an agent for a disclosed principal, cannot be held personally liable by an auction buyer absent some express agreement by the auctioneer to be liable,” attorney Brian Belowich wrote on behalf of Butterscotch Auction Gallery. “Thus, Plantiff cannot seek damages against Defendant for breach of contract absent some clear, explicit agreement by Defendant to be bound.”


Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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