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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Thanks a Lot, Uncle Sam

BROOKLYN (CN) - A Brooklyn-based artist claims The National Portrait Gallery borrowed one of her paintings to enter it in a competition, and after it won the "People's Choice Award," Uncle Sam shipped it off to a collector, and no one ever paid the artist one dime.

Margaret Bowland Harris, who paints as Margaret Bowland, sued the United States, The Smithsonian Institution and The National Portrait Gallery in Federal Court.

Bowland says her "Portrait of Kenyetta Brianna," a 6-foot by 6-foot portrait of three women, won the 2010 People's Choice Award at a National Portrait Gallery competition.

She first showed the painting at the Klaudia Marr Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., from Oct. 17, 2008 to Nov. 29, 2008, according to the complaint.

Bowland says she was informed on Nov. 15, 2008 that "the painting had been selected for the Outwin Boocheever Portrait Competition at the National Portrait Gallery ('the NPG') in Washington, D.C."

She says the NPG picked up the painting, on loan, on Nov. 29, 2008, with the period of the loan ending Oct. 1, 2010.

"On February 26, 2009, in an email to both the artist and Marr, the NPG stated that Marr acknowledged that the artist was the legal owner of the painting," the complaint states. "Marr never objected to the statement by the NPG that the artist was the legal owner of the painting.

"The exhibition of paintings from the NPG portrait competition ('the exhibition') opened on October 23, 2009 and ran almost one year, closing on August 29, 2010. The painting was named one of the six finalists in the competition and at the end of the show was awarded 'The People's Choice Award.'"

Bowland adds: "The credit line used by the NPG during the exhibition and in the catalogue of the exhibition was 'From the collection of the artist.'"

As the exhibition ended, Bowland says, the NPG sent her two emails about returning the painting, but used "an email address that the artist had not used for over a year instead of ... the email address the artist had been using for numerous emails between herself and the NPG during the past year. The artist did not receive the emails sent to the old address."

She says the NPG had her telephone number and street address, but never used them. It did, however, cc Marr in its second email to her old email account, Bowland says.

"Not quite nine hours after the NPG cc'ed Marr with its email to the artist, Marr sent an email to the NPG directing that the painting be sent directly to her client, David Naylor of Santa Fe, New Mexico," according to the complaint.

So, Bowland says, the NPG shipped the painting to Naylor, who is not a defendant.

"When the artist learned that Naylor had the painting, she contacted him several times in an attempt to either get the painting back or to receive payment for it," Bowland says. "Naylor claimed to have already paid Marr for the painting, and to date he has neither returned the painting nor paid the artist anything for it.

"Marr has never paid the artist anything for the painting."

Marr is not a defendant either. Bowland sued only the federal institutions.

She demands $100,000 for breach of contract and negligence.

She is represented by lawyer Matthew J. Harris.

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