The Controversy Between the Joan Mitchell Foundation and Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton hosted an exhibition from May 2022 through February 2023 on Claude Monet and Joan Mitchell, “Monet – Mitchell,” as well as a retrospective on Joan Mitchell’s life and works. The Joan Mitchell Foundation (JMF) was established according to Joan’s will in 1993, and immediately began its work supporting young artists, as a continuation of Joan’s own passion. One of JMF’s long standing policies was that none of Joan’s works would be used for commercial gain: they could only be used for education. It is for that reason that JMF issued formal denials, in writing, of Louis Vuitton’s repeated requests in late 2022 to use Joan Mitchell’s works in a new advertising campaign. However, despite JMF’s clear refusal to allow Louis Vuitton to legally use Joan’s artwork in its advertising campaign, Louis Vuitton decided to use it anyway, photographing French Actress Léa Seydoux with the Louis Vuitton Capucines handbags in the Foundation Louis Vuitton exhibit space. Three of Joan’s paintings could clearly be seen in the background of the photos: “La Grande Vallée XIV (For A Little While)” (1983); “Quatuor II for Betsy Jolas” (1976); and “Edrita Fried” (1981).
Louis Vuitton used these photos in a print and digital campaign, and JMF promptly sent a cease and desist letter on February 21, 2023. The letter demanded that Louis Vuitton immediately stop the campaign and cease its use of the illegally reproduced works of Joan Mitchell. JMF also expressed its “grave disappointment . . . that Louis Vuitton has such disregard for the rights of an artist and would exploit her work for financial gain.” JMF sent a second letter of cease and desist to the Foundation Louis Vuitton for allowing the photography, which was a clear violation of its “license agreement [with JMF] that prevents the reproduction of Mitchell’s works from the exhibition without consent.”
Louis Vuitton did appear to remove the photographs from its website as there is no longer any trace of the campaign readily findable, but has otherwise remained silent against the accusations. The ad campaign also did not even credit Joan Mitchell or the Foundation, and the ad campaign was released on Joan’s birthday, February 12. JMF threatened additional legal action if Louis Vuitton did not withdraw the campaign. It remains to be seen if Louis Vuitton’s mere removal of the photographs from the website will have allayed the concerns of the Foundation, even though neither Louis Vuitton nor Foundation Louis Vuitton have issued any sort of formal apology or withdrawal of the campaign. At this time, there have been no further developments in this story.