News | January 13, 2021

Piercing the art world’s cloak of secrecy: Hickox v Dickinson – eprivateclient

Head of Private Client Disputes Team, Caroline Miller, and Solicitor Jack Martin in the Private Client team, have written an insightful piece addressing the case of Hickox v Dickinson and the issue of the art world’s cloak of secrecy. It is common practice in the art world to protect client’s confidentiality and shield transactions, including concealing the identity of private buyers; however, this recent decision by the High Court has allowed a ‘peek behind the normally closed doors of art sales’.

In this case, the sale of a valuable work of art was dealt with by an art dealer, Timothy Sammons, and although the purchase monies were paid to Mr Sammons from the private buyer via the buyer’s art dealer, the seller never received them. The extent to which the Court should trace proceedings, including the whereabouts of the painting and the identity of the private buyer, was the issue in the case. Mr Sammons has already been found guilty of fraud and grand larceny and is serving a prison sentence in New York.

The High Court granted the seller’s application seeking an order requiring disclosure of the buyer’s art dealer’s dealings with the painting and knowledge of the current whereabouts of the painting under the court’s Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction. This ruling goes against the ‘well-known custom and practice in the art world to conceal the identity of a private buyer’ and is evidence of a movement in the art industry towards greater transparency and regulation, particularly where there are victims of art theft or fraud. In light of the ruling, research and due diligence will continue to be an essential part of a transaction where art is the subject matter, not only for clients but also for agents.

This article was originally published on EPrivateClient on 08/01/2021. Please click here to read the full article.