Monday, September 16, 2013

Getty Mounts Preemptive Legal Strike: Museum Seeks to Quiet Title of 14th Century Ansouis Diptych

The Getty Museum has launched a preemptive legal strike to stop a French citizen from taking a 14th century Diptych from its collection. In a legal complaint filed in federal district court in California, the museum seeks an order quieting the title of The Stigmatization of Saint Francis and The Crowning of Saints Cecilia and Valerian, the so-called "Ansouis Diptych" pictured here.

The Getty alleges that the defendant, Geraud Marie de Sabran-Ponteves, erroneously claims the religious piece for himself as part of "long-running inheritance dispute."  The museum says it owns the Diptych.

The Getty's lawyers insist that the Los Angeles based museum lawfully purchased the Diptych in 1986 from Wildenstein & Co. gallery in New York City. Wildenstein, meanwhile, purchased it in 1981 from the Sabran-Ponteves family, who are shown on the Diptych and who owned the work "for hundreds of years." The lawyers argue:
Wildenstein warranted that it owned the Diptych, that it had been legally imported into the United States, and that there were no liens or encumbrances against it. In addition, the Getty undertook a reasonable investigation of the painting's provenance, as well as its authenticity.  That investigation confirmed that the Diptych had been possessed and owned by the House of Sabran until its acquisition by Wildenstein, and yielded nothing that cast doubt on the validity of Wildenstein's representations.
The museum's complaint stresses that the defendant knew the museum had the Diptych in 1987, "[y]et, Defendant made no effort even to contact the Getty until August 1999. When he did contact the Getty, Defendant did not assert ownership to the Diptych or demand its return." The letter simply asked for assistance to aid with the valuation of the family's estate. "Then in the summer of 2012," the lawyers add, "Defendant 's French counsel sent the Getty two letters in which Defendant claimed, for the first time, to be the sole owner of the Ansouis Diptych. The letters asserted that the family's sale of the Diptych-some 30 years earlier-was unauthorized, and that the Diptych had been illegally exported from France."

Before a threatened claim could be filed by Sabran-Ponteves in civil court in Paris to recover the Diptych, the Getty decided to take legal action in the U.S., arguing that it has valid title; that the defendant is barred from taking the piece by virtue of the statute of limitations; and, alternatively, that the Getty owns the Ansouis Diptych by adverse possession. 

Photo credit: Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program. Unknown Italian, Neapolitan or Avignon School, The Stigmatization of St. Francis, and Angel Crowning Saints Cecilia and Valerian, 1330s, Tempera and gold leaf on panel. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

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