Henry Legge KC and Eliza Eagling successful in defending art dealer in professional negligence claim

The High Court has handed down judgment in the case of Fielding & Anor v Simon C. Dickinson Ltd [2022] EWCH 3091 (Ch).  The trustees of an heirlooms trust, the Countess of Wemyss and Vilma Ramsay, issued a claim against the art dealer Simon C. Dickinson Ltd (SCD) for professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.  Henry Legge KC and Eliza Eagling (instructed by Howard Kennedy LLP) acted for the successful Defendant.

The trial concerned a painting called Le Bénédicité (Saying Grace) by Jean-Baptise-Siméon Chardin, an 18th century French painter (the Painting).  There are many copies of Le Bénédicité, four of which are accepted as having Chardin’s hand in them.  The prime version had been presented by Chardin to Louis XV and is now in the Louvre.  There is a second version in the Louvre, one in the Hermitage and the fourth had been in the Wemyss family since it was acquired by an ancestor in 1751.

The world expert on Chardin and former director of the Louvre, Pierre Rosenberg, had described the Painting as a “« copie retouchée » par Chardin”.  This is a rare term and the parties disagreed on its significance.  SCD has sold the Painting as “Chardin and Studio” for £1.15m in July 2014.  The Painting was resold six months later to an established Chardin collector as a fully autograph work for an ostensible price of $10.5m USD.  The Claimants’ case was that the term “copie retouchée” indicated an autograph work by Chardin and it should have been sold as such, for a much higher price.

The court held that there was no negligence or breach of duty by Simon C. Dickinson Ltd in its handling of the sale of the Painting.

You can read a copy of the judgment here