During renovation works on the Sparta Rotterdam Stadium in 1997, a carpenter allegedly pulled a painting out of a wheelbarrow with rubbish. The carpenter decided to take the painting ("that was eventually going to end up on the dump anyhow") home.
A few years later, the carpenter had the painting valued by experts of the tv-program "Tussen Kunst en Kitsch" (the equivalent of the BBC "Antiques Roadshow"), and he was told that the painting's value is approximately € 20,000 to 25,000.
After the show was televised, Sparta Rotterdam contacted the carpenter. The football club claimed to be the real owner and indicated that it had never intended to dispose of the painting. The carpenter refused to relinguish the painting and Sparta Rotterdam filed suit, demanding release of its property.
On 7 September 2011, the Rotterdam District Court in its interim judgment held that in order for the defendant to succesfully argue that he became the owner by taking possession of an apparently abandoned painting (pursuant to art. 5:18 jo. 5:4 of the Dutch Civil Code), it needs to be established that the defendant justifiably relied on Sparta's abandonnement of the painting. The District Court subsequently called for a judicial viewing of the painting and witness hearings.
On 19 December 2012, the District Court in its final judgment ruled in favor of Sparta Rotterdam. The court held that the defendant failed to prove the alleged facts and circumstances of how he came to possess the painting. Witnesses (including the defendant) in this respect had altered their statements during the course proceedings, and thus were considered insufficiently unreliable. What is more, as the court held, the litigious artwork was a type of painting of which a reasonable person can easily determine that it was painted in 1930 by an excellent artist. Consequently, it would seem unreasonable for the defendant to simply assume that the (former) owner wanted to dispose of the painting. The court therefore ordered for the painting to be returned to Sparta Rotterdam. At present, it is unknown if an appeal will be dodged.
RTV Rijnmond has reported that Sparta Rotterdam has been reunited wit its "Mastenbroek".
Suppose a painting is pulled out of a dumpster by a passerby: does he or she get to keep it? Not necessarily, as follows from the reasoning of the Rotterdam District Court. If the painting, in the perception of a "reasonable person", on its face can be considered to represent a certain value, the finder is obliged to make inquiries to find out whether the owner really wants to dispose of the piece. The sole fact that the painting is thrown out like the rubbish is insufficient for a finder to assume that the owner relinquished its property rights.
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