On 7 March 2012, the Dordrecht District Court rendered a final judgment in the dispute concerning the Luigies Art Collection. The works of art are part of the estate of the late Nanne Harm Luigies (1904-1977).
Luigies was an art collector, who managed to build a size-able and valuable art collection during his lifetime. The collection includes paintings by Karel Appel, lithographs by Corneille and Pierre Alechinsky. Further, the collection includes works by Dolf Henkes and Floris Arntzenius, a study by Kees van Dongen, an etching by Chagall and lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec. Paintings by Jan Sluijters are the showpieces of the collection.
Luigies during his lifetime bequeathed the collection to the Dutch municipality of Papendrecht. Claimant, Mrs. Damstra- Visser, heir of Luigies' estate, in recent years aimed to rescind the 1972 bequest. The District Court has now dismissed the heir's claim and has amended the terms of Luigies' bequest in favor of the municipality. The judgment shows the importance of a well drafted bequest, when it comes to art collections.
Facts and procedural history
The Luigies collection encompasses over 500 paintings. Luigies, who made his fortune from sales of consumables on passenger ships, bequeathed his entire art collection to the Papendrecht municipality in 1972, where he resided in bungalow "De Rietgors".
During Luigies' lifetime, the paintings were held in his bungalow. After Luigies passed away in 1977, his collection was transferred to museum De Rietgors. The Papendrecht municipality was forced to close the museum in 2001 for lack of funds. The art collection was subsequently stored in a depository space within the museum.
In 2005, it was discovered that a part of the Luigies collection was damaged by moisture, insects and fungus. The municipality deliberated over the future of the collection. Many of the solutions were, however, incompatible with the terms of Luigies' bequest, i.e. the collection was to remain intact and accessible in Papendrecht.
In 2009, the heir to the estate of Luigies, Mrs. Damstra- Visser, issued a notice of default on the municipality. She claimed that the municipality had violated the terms of the bequest by failing to properly manage, handle and exhibit the collection. In 2010, Damstra-Visser seized the collection and she subsequently notified the municipality of the rescission of the bequest.
Damstra-Visser thereafter filed suit against the municipality, demanding transfer of the entire collection, and payment of compensation for damaged and missing art works. The municipality, by way of counterclaim, demanded amendment of the terms of the bequest, that will permit storage in a state of the art facility in Dordrecht (which is across the river from Papendrecht).
On 18 May 2011, the District Court rendered an interim judgment, and held that the rules applicable to reciprocical agreements apply equally to Luigies' bequest (despite the general unilateral character of a bequest), given that the municipality agreed to abide to obligations in accepting the bequest relating to the handling, management and (to a certain extent) exhibition of the collection.
The District Court then set out to assess whether the municipality had violated the terms of Luigies' bequest, and to which extent this justified rescission of the bequest. The District Court held that the nature of the bequest is to be taken into account, more precise, the fact that the collection was bequeathed to a museum with a view to keeping it accessible to the local community, and at the same time allowing for acquisitions and de-accessioning to foster sustainability.
In its interim judgment, the court further held that the fact that the Luigies collection is not permanently on display in its entirety, does not constitute a violation of its terms. No stipulation to this end was included in the bequest. The court then went on to hold that the disappearance of certain works and failure to properly store the works are potential violations of the terms of the bequest. In this regard, the court allowed the Papendrecht municipality to submit information on acquisitions, disappearance of works and on measures to restore and prevent damage to the works, noting that the bequest imposed no specific obligation for the municipality to employ the highest level reasonably possible for museums.
In the final judgment of 7 March 2010 (LJN BV8014) the District Court held, on the basis of further submissions and expert advice, that the municipality had not bee negligent in managing and handling the Luigies collection. The municipality properly accounted for the missing works and acquisition policy, even though the books and records did not allow for each individual acquisition to be matched to the underlying sale proceeds by which they were funded. The court also held that the municipality had properly stored the works of art, noting that also certain other major museums had been confronted with an unexpected increase of insect- related damage to artwork.
The District Court awarded the municipality's counterclaim on the ground of imprévision, and amended the 1972 bequest, in such a fashion that the municipality is now permitted to store the collection in Dordrecht instead of Papendrecht. The court held that Dordrecht is in the near vicinity of Papendrecht, that Dordrecht presently holds a state of the art storage facility and that the bequest does not obligate for the collection to be on permanent display.
From the court's findings it becomes clear that it is worthwhile to carefully draft the terms of a bequest of an art collection. It follows from the court's findings that the Luigies bequest was silent on matters such as the exhibition, quality of storage and reporting requirements on acquisitions and de-accessioning. Perhaps Luigies was not particularly concerned with the details, since his friend and artist Adri Mouthaan continued to manage the collection (which he ultimately did for 22 years). Whatever the case, any aspiring bequestor is well-advised to draw up detailed terms of a bequest, and the consequences of violation of its terms, if he or she has specific wishes in terms of management and handling of the art collection.
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