UK: Bella Principessa and the Hazard of Expert Opinions

Last Updated: 28 September 2010
Article by Judith Bresler

In the fall of 2009, the art world was abuzz over the potential discovery of a lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci - and the fact that it had been sold at auction at Christie's only eleven years earlier for less than $22,000. Almost one year later, the interest surrounding this discovery has not abated, but has shifted focus. All eyes are now on a New York federal district court as it considers a lawsuit brought against Christie's by the consignor of the alleged da Vinci for damages in connection with its misattribution as an anonymous 19th century German drawing.

The drawing and its 'discovery'

In 1998, prominent art dealer Kate Ganz paid just under $22,000 at a Christie's auction for a pen-and-ink drawing on fine parchment of a young woman listed in the auction catalogue as being executed in the 19th century by a member of a German school of artists known for imitating Italian Renaissance painters.

In January 2007, Ganz sold the drawing at her gallery to an undisclosed purchaser acting through Peter Silverman, a Canadian collector. Suspecting that it was a true Renaissance work rather than a 19th century imitation, Silverman submitted the drawing for radiocarbon dating. Testing indicated that the parchment was dated between 1440 and 1650, making it conceivable that it was executed by Leonardo da Vinci, who lived from 1452 to 1519. Silverman then submitted the drawing to leading da Vinci scholar Martin Kemp, who, after more than a year of study, pronounced the drawing to be a genuine da Vinci and named it La Bella Principessa.

Kemp's pronouncement of authenticity caused a rift among scholars and connoisseurs of da Vinci, including the director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci who publicly confirmed Kemp's identification, and the curator of drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who publicly doubted Kemp's pronouncement. Amid this controversy, a forensic art expert claimed to have identified a fingerprint on La Bella Principessa that matched a fingerprint on a known da Vinci. The consignor of the drawing brought suit against Christie's.

The Case against Christie's: Marchig v. Christie's

In April 2010, Jeanne Marchig brought suit against Christie's in connection with the consignment and sale of the drawing, seeking unspecified damages under four legal theories: (i) breach of fiduciary duty; (ii) breach of warranty; (iii) negligence; and (iv) negligent misrepresentation.

The circumstances surrounding the consignment

According to Marchig, the drawing originally belonged to her late husband, an art restorer, when they married in 1955, and she became the sole owner in 1983 after his death. Marchig and her late husband had a relationship with Christie's dating back to 1966, having consigned several works of art for sale prior to Marchig's consignment of the drawing.

Marchig alleges that she informed Christie's at the time of the consignment that her late husband believed the drawing to be the work of Domenico Ghirlandaio, an early Italian Renaissance painter and teacher of Michelangelo who had apprenticed under Andrea del Verrocchio at the same time as Leonardo da Vinci. Marchig further alleges that François Borne, the then-resident Christie's expert on Old Master Drawings, spent fifteen minutes examining the drawing and concluded that it was a German drawing dating from the 19th century, which attribution Marchig reluctantly accepted.

Christie's response to the attribution controversy

From 1998 to 2009, Marchig consigned additional works of art for sale at Christie's and maintained a correspondence with the Honourary Chairman of Christie's, Noël Annesley. In July 2009, Marchig received a telephone call from Annesley informing her of the claims by Kemp and others that the drawing was the work of Leonardo da Vinci.

Annesley then sent Marchig a series of emails and letters regarding the new attribution and even travelled to Geneva from London to meet with her in person to discuss the issue.

The four theories of liability on which the plaintiffs base their case

1) Breach of fiduciary duty

It is well-established law in New York that an auction house has a fiduciary relationship with its consignors. Marchig asserts that Christie's breached its fiduciary duty to her by failing to investigate her belief that the drawing could be attributed to an Italian Renaissance artist; by failing to investigate the age of the drawing using carbon dating; and by failing to accurately assess the age of the drawing using routine methods of analysis and connoisseurship. The Plaintiffs suggest that had Borne taken Marchig's suggested attribution seriously, it is likely that the drawing would have at least been identified as a 15th century Italian drawing valued far in excess of $22,000, regardless of the artist to whom it was attributed.

2) Breach of warranty

Marchig's breach of warranty claim arises from her consignment agreement with Christie's. While that agreement provided that 'Christie's makes no representations or warranties to Seller with respect to the Property, its authenticity, condition or otherwise', it did not expressly disclaim any warranties with respect to attribution. Accordingly, Marchig argues that Christie's breached its warranty of attribution to her detriment by failing to identify the drawing as being of 15th century Italian origin.

3) Negligence

Here, Marchig claims that Christie's failed to exercise due care and to act as a reasonably prudent expert, and so breached its duties (i) to correctly attribute the drawing to the artist who created it; (ii) to correctly estimate its age; and (iii) to obtain the best possible price for the drawing.

4) Negligent misrepresentation

Marchig asserts that Christie's fiduciary relationship with her gave rise to a special relationship of trust and confidence sufficient to sustain a claim of negligent misrepresentation. That is, Marchig contends that Christie's knew she required accurate information in order to sell the drawing at the highest possible price, and that she intended to rely on Christie's opinion regarding its attribution. Further, Marchig alleged that, to her detriment, Christie's was negligent in its misattribution of the drawing and in its rejection of Marchig's belief that the drawing was a work of the Italian Renaissance.

Christie's response

Christie's preferred a two-pronged response to Marchig's claims.

First, that each of Marchig's four claims is barred by the statute of limitations, as each of the four theories of liability accrued no later than the January 1998 date of the auction of the drawing and New York's applicable limitations periods are six years or less.

Second, Christie's contends that the Plaintiffs have failed to state a plausible claim for relief. That is, as to Marchig's claims of breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and negligent misrepresentation, Christie's contends that its obligations to her were defined by the consignment agreement and contract law alone.

As to Marchig's claim of breach of warranty, Christie's asserts that it did not breach any warranty to her under the consignment agreement because the agreement (i) did not contain any applicable warranty; and (ii) expressly disclaimed any warranties with respect to the consignment and sale of the drawing.

Implications of Marchig v. Christie's: how long does on auction house's fiduciary relationship with a consignor last?

The Marchig v. Christie's decision could have far-reaching implications in terms of the duties owed by an auction house to a consignor. The ruling will likely touch upon issues such as the length of time a fiduciary relationship between an auction house and consignor might exist, and if parties might alter that relationship by conduct as well as by contract.

Does the fact that a consignor continues to consign other works with an auction house toll the statute of limitations for claims regarding the fiduciary duty owed with respect to the original consigned work? Or, could a call from an auction house official revive a fiduciary relationship with a consignor long after the gavel has fallen? Does a disclaimer in a consignment agreement that an auction house makes no representations or warranties as to the authenticity of an object relieve the auction house from a duty to correctly attribute such object? Stay tuned.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.