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Art Dealers Under Review: The Wildensteins

Transparency in the art market is a hot topic at the moment. Shady art dealers are receiving most of the blame for various obfuscations and deals gone wrong, and the Wildenstein family is doing little to improve their image.

The Los Angeles Times discusses the controversy surrounding the family in a recently published article entitled, “Cultural Exchange: Wildenstein Art Dealers Scrutinized.”

Wildenstein & Company was founded in 1852, and now operates a gallery on 64th Street.
“Over the past century, five generations of Wildensteins have been involved in the business of fine art.” As respected and renowned as the dynasty is, company president Guy Wildenstein is currently facing a number of legal challenges.

The first came from his deceased stepmother, Sylvia Roth, who accused him of tax evasion and illegal concealment of portions of his father’s estate from her and other heirs. The case continues, and continues to be a sensation in France.

In January, French police seized 30 paintings from the Wildenstein Institute. Some of these paintings were actually part of an estate that Yves Rouart was supposed to inherit. This prompted Rouart to bring a second legal attack on Guy Wildenstein, alleging “concealment of theft.”

The L.A. Times suggests that Wildenstein is Guy is facing several lawsuits over his father’s estate, and several more lawsuits related to the allegedly looted art that was discovered at the Institute. It is also suggested that the family “has never entirely shaken off claims of links with looted Nazi art.”

Let us not forget the appraisal gone wrong in Mandarin Trading Ltd. v Wildenstein, a case which went to the NY Court of Appeals in February 2011. Although Mandarin’s claims against Wildenstein for fraud, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation all failed, the case brought negative attention to certain practices.

At the Art Industry Summit at Park Avenue Armory, it was concluded that more transparency in the art market would be a good thing. Clarity of the law, in regards to the responsibilities of selling, appraising, and collecting art, might also be a good thing for the art market.