How will Mitterrand handle artists’ resale rights dispute?

French minister for culture faces challenge over Christie’s “droit de suite” issue

Paris. The dispute between Christie’s and French art market players over the thorny issue of “droit de suite” is one of the first challenges facing France’s new minister for culture, Frédéric Mitterrand. Droit de suite is a royalty payable to artists or their heirs each time a work is resold during the artist’s lifetime and for 70 years following their death. In France this tax is usually calculable by percentage rates between 0.25% and 4%—of which the maximum amount on any work of art is €12,500—payable by the seller. Christie’s has enraged other auction houses and galleries by imposing this cost on buyers.

Georges-Philippe Vallois, vice-chairman of the Art Dealers Committee, says: “Our position, shared during a meeting organised by the ministry of culture on 19 June [still under Christine Albanel at the time]—with the Trade Union of Antique Dealers, Sotheby’s, the organisation representing French auctioneers (SYMEV), and the ADAGP (the French organisation for artists’ rights)—is that the droit de suite charge to the buyer appears to be totally contrary to the spirit of the law. Making the buyer pay the droit de suite reduces his buying potential.” Patrick Bongers, president of the Art Dealers Committee, adds: “If we, the gallerists, want to sell the work of art again [after buying it at Christie’s], it means we have to pay the droit de suite twice.”

This dispute dates back to the Christie’s sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé in February. Christie’s believes that its position is necessary if it is to compete on a global scale. “I’d like the droit de suite to be abolished [in Europe], which would put France on the same level as America and Asia, two continents that do not practise this tax,” says François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe. “Failing that, we wish for the droit de suite to be billed to the buyer; it is actually very difficult to persuade an American or Asian seller to entrust us with a work to be sold in France if we have to deduct the droit de suite from the proceeds of the sale. This practice of billing to the buyer is in force in England, which is the biggest European centre of auctions.”

Guillaume Cerutti, chairman of Sotheby’s France, says: “It is desirable that in each country the law determines clearly whether the seller or the buyer must pay.”

Bongers says there are other contentious points: “The idea is that the author of the work participates in the seller’s profit. In France, if you sell a work without making a profit, you still pay the droit de suite. This isn’t normal and needs to be harmonised with the rest of Europe.”

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12 Jul 10
15:49 CET


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