In recent art world news, France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, issued a ruling on March 7, 2018 that ends the lengthy dispute between the heirs of Peggy Guggenheim’s daughter, Pegeen Vail, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation based in New York. The court has dismissed an appeal by Guggenheim heirs who sued the foundation in 2014, alleging that it had failed to respect Peggy Guggenheim’s wishes in its management of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice, Italy and the modern art collection it contains, which was donated and bequeathed to the foundation by the late collector. Our earlier coverage of the parties’ long-running legal dispute was featured on the Art Law Blog in July 2014.
As some background, Pegeen Vail’s heirs first sought legal action against the foundation back in 1992. That case was dismissed, however, before the heirs’ appeal was heard, the foundation and heirs had reached an agreement in December 1996.
Nearly 20 years later in 2014, the heirs sued the foundation again, alleging that the organization had “disrespected Peggy Guggenheim’s wishes by accepting the gift of 83 post-war and contemporary works bequeathed by the collectors Rudolph and Hannelore Schulhof and displaying these in Peggy Guggenheim’s Venetian palace.” In 2013, the late collector’s works were moved to storage to provide space for a four month exhibition of the Schulhof bequest.
In its ruling, the court determined that the 1996 agreement between the parties “imposed no constraint on the number or the duration of the displays or other collections, nor did it require a constant presentation of all the works” in the late collector’s collection. The court further determined that the plaintiffs “did not establish” that the display of the collections donated by Schulhof and others “damaged the reputation” of Peggy Guggenheim’s own collection and they did not represent the “failure” of the foundation to fulfill its obligations.
The plaintiffs also claimed that the foundation had desecrated the late collector’s burial site. Guggenheim’s ashes were interred in the gardens of her Venetian palace beside those of her beloved dogs. The heirs argued that the foundation had disrespected the site with the display of works donated by Patsy and Raymond Nasher in close proximity and “profaned” her final resting place by leasing the garden for private events.
The court disagreed and ruled that under Italian criminal law (applicable in this suit) the foundation’s management of the late collector’s burial site had not undermined “the memory of the deceased person” and that events held in the garden did not constitute “profanation”. The plaintiffs were ordered to pay the foundation €3,000.
For further information on this lengthy legal battle between Guggenheim’s heirs and the foundation, see Case dismissed: France’s highest court rules in favour of Guggenheim foundation, published online by The Art Newspaper on March 8, 2018.