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Swiss art dealer wins case against Italian government

A Swiss art dealer has won a long-running legal battle against the Italian government, forcing it to pay him compensation from a deal involving "The Gardener" by Van Gogh. The issue was finally decided by the European Court of Human Rights.

This content was published on January 5, 2000 - 14:20

A Swiss art dealer has won a long-running legal battle against the Italian government, forcing it to pay him compensation from a deal involving "The Gardener" by Van Gogh. The issue was finally decided by the European Court of Human Rights.

The art dealer, Hans Beyeler, who owns a famous museum in Basel, won the right to compensation from the Italian government when the court ruled it had violated his property rights by paying only Lire600 million ($320,000) for the painting in 1988. That sum was 25 times below its market valuation, the court in Strasbourg ruled.

The case goes back to 1977 when Beyeler bought the painting through an agent. His name did not initially appear on the declaration of sale when it was filed with the cultural heritage ministry. But Beyeler gave the ministry the missing information five years later.

Beyeler sold the painting to the Peggy Guggenheim foundation in 1988 for$8.5 million for its Venice collection. But later that year, the Italian government bought the painting at the 1977 value, saying Beyeler had failed to inform the ministry of the purchase.

The Italian authorities were aware he had made changes in 1983 to his incomplete declaration, ruled the court.

"The state of affairs had allowed the ministry of cultural heritage to acquire the painting in 1988 at below its market value. The authorities thus derived an unjust enrichment from the uncertainty during that period and to which they largely contributed" said the court.

Beyeler and the ministry now have six months in which to settle on a sum for financial compensation. If they cannot reach agreement, the court will settle the level of damages

From staff and wire reports


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