Art law News USA

Court dismisses lawsuit over Eggleston reprints

New York collector said that larger format versions of Eggleston photographs devalue his collection of limited edition works

William Eggleston, Untitled, 1970

A New York collector has lost his legal battle against the photographer William Eggleston in US federal court. Jonathan Sobel, a financier, says that his collection of more than 190 photographs by Eggleston, which includes limited edition prints, was devalued by an auction of Eggleston's works at Christie's New York in March 2012.

The sale was controversial because it included new, larger format editions of the photographer's famous dye-transfer images that the artist first produced in the 1970s and early 1980s. The 36-lot white-glove sale totalled $5.9m with the top lot, Untitled 1970, setting a world auction record for a single print by the photographer at $578,000 (est $200,000-$300,000).

Sobel sought damages from Eggleston and his son William Eggleston III, as trustees of the Eggleston Artistic Trust, for violation of the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law (Acal), fraudulent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel.

From 2008 to 2011, Sobel bought eight limited edition works by Eggleston, each of which was individually numbered, measuring about 16 by 20 inches. The same images were consigned to Christie's but in a larger size (44 by 60 inches), and were digitally manufactured from computer-generated files.

The court papers state that "Sobel's belief that the works were limited editions was a principal factor in his decision to purchase them... he argues that the defendants violated the Acal by holding out the limited edition works as restricted to a maximum number of multiples and subsequently creating and selling the reprints." The court ruled that "nothing in the statute suggests that such behaviour violates the Acal". Sobel could not be reached for comment.

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