MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge dismissed a case that claimed Christie's auction house auctioned a drawing for $21,850 after failing to recognize that it was by Leonardo da Vinci, and could have brought $100 million. Jeanne Marchig and the Marchig Animal Welfare Trust sued Christie's in 2010 for the 1998 sale, long after the statute of limitations had lapsed, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled.
Judge Koeltl summarized Marchig's complaint: "In 1966, Marchig and her husband met Noel Annesley, an expert in old master drawings at Christie's. Between 1969 and 2009, Marchig and her husband (until his death in 1983) consigned dozens of works to Christie's, to be auctioned on their behalf.
"In 1997, Marchig consigned a pen-and-ink drawing to Christie's for sale. Marchig and Christie's entered into a consignment agreement with respect to the Drawing in August 1997. At the time of the consignment, Marchig informed Christie's that her late husband believed the Drawing to be the work of Domenico Ghirlandaio, an early Italian Renaissance painter and teacher of Michelangelo.
"The Drawing was examined by Francois Borne, the resident expert in old master drawings at Christie's, who concluded that the Drawing was a nineteenth-century German work of unknown authorship.
"In a letter to Marchig, he wrote: 'Your superb German drawing in the taste of the Italian Renaissance fascinates me. I think it an object of great taste and I would be ready to try our luck with an estimate of $12,000 to [$]15,000 in New York. As I told you I would be tempted to change the frame in order to make it seem an amateur object of the 19th century and not an Italian pastiche,'" Koeltl wrote. (Parentheses and brackets as in opinion.)
Christie's changed the frame before Marchig gave her consent and listed the drawing in its catalogue as "the property of a lady" and "German, 19th Century," the opinion states.
"In July 2009, Marchig received a telephone call from Annesley, informing her that the Drawing had been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. This attribution has since been supported by the work of many experts in the field. One London art dealer has estimated the Drawing's value at over £100 million," the opinion says.
Marchig sued Christie's in May 2010 for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of warranty, negligence and negligent misrepresentation.
In dismissing the complaint, Koeltl wrote that the plaintiffs made these claims after the statute of limitations had elapsed.
"Under New York law, a plaintiff seeking to recover monetary damages for a breach of fiduciary duty must file suit within three years from the time the cause of action accrues," Koeltl wrote.
The judge said he was not convinced of the plaintiffs' claims "that the statutes of limitations could not have begun to run until at least 2009, when Marchig learned of the alleged misattribution of the Drawing."
Citing Bastys v. Rothschild, Koeltl wrote, "[I]f a breach of fiduciary duty claim is not based upon fraud, the statute of limitations begins to run upon the breach, and not when the plaintiff discovers the breach."
He granted Christie's motion and dismissed.
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