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Christie’s will have to litigate claims that a botched appraisal by the auction house of a 17th century old masters painting cost its former owner $280,000, after Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Herman Cahn refused to dismiss the case. Cahn said that even though the consignment sale agreement between Christie’s and the painting’s former owner, EST Inc., did not require the auction house to provide an appraisal, the agreement was ambiguous and did not necessarily absolve Christie’s from liability stemming from wrongly attributing the painting to a minor artist rather than an acknowledged master. The dispute in E.S.T. Inc. v. Christie’s Inc., 112793/00, stems from Christie’s handling of an oil painting titled “The Entombment of Christ,” which was sold at auction on May 22, 1998, for $12,000. According to Cahn’s decision, EST delivered the painting to Christie’s, where the auction house’s expert on old master paintings identified it as the work of Sistro Badalocchio, the pupil of an important 17th century painter, Annibale Caracci. The painting was listed in the May auction catalogue as the work of Badalocchio. EST discovered after the auction that the painting was actually the work of Caracci, the master himself, increasing the work’s approximate value to $300,000. EST sued Christie’s, claiming that the auction house was negligent in its failure to recognize the true authorship of “The Entombment of Christ.” Christie’s defense is that under the consignment agreement between itself and EST, its sole duty was to offer the painting for sale at auction, Justice Cahn said. Under the agreement, Christie’s made no warranty as to the painting’s “authenticity, condition or otherwise,” and according to the auction house, it would not be liable for errors or omissions in the catalogue description of the painting. Cahn said that potential responsibility for misattribution of the painting was excluded in the agreement limiting Christie’s liability. Christie’s argued that attribution is an integral part of a painting’s “authenticity,” and that therefore the consignment agreement precluded any lawsuit based on misattribution. However, the court ruled that those terms in the consignment agreement were vague enough that they should be construed against Christie’s for the purposes of the motion to dismiss. EST Inc. is represented by Wayne Lawrence Desimone, of counsel to the Arthur J. Teichberg firm in Manhattan. Christie’s counsel is Michael E. Salzman, of Hughes Hubbard & Reed. In March, Christie’s was held not liable for a misattribution in a case with similar facts. In Ravenna v. Christie’s Inc., a vice president of the auction house said that a 17th century painting was “from the studio of the 17th century Italian artist Nuvolone,” and had a value of $10,000 to $15,000. The painting was actually the work of a master painter with the same surname as in the current case, Ludovico Caracci. The plaintiff sold the painting for $40,000 to a dealer in the belief that the Christie’s evaluation was accurate. That dealer subsequently engaged Christie’s to sell the painting at auction, where it fetched more than $5.2 million. In Ravenna, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman ruled that Christie’s could not be liable for the former owner’s loss since there was no duty or special relationship arising out of a contract or agreement between the parties.

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