Any investor who has explored the art market will know exactly how important art provenance is when they look to invest in a painting or a sculpture.
This is a point that’s recently been underlined in a reported argument between Swiss dealer Alain Dreyfus and auction house Christie’s. In 2008, Dreyfus purchased an Alfred Sisley painting, only to be contacted in 2016 by art restoration specialists Mondex to tell him that the painting had actually been looted by Nazis in 1940 and had originally belonged to a Jewish family.
Dreyfus readily handed over ownership to Swiss authorities. He feels though that he has been let down by Christie’s art provenance, and that they should have known of the painting’s origins. He has since invoiced their Zurich branch €700,000, demanding to be reimbursed (plus interest).
How blockchain technology can improve art provenance
“Christie’s had to know all of this!” Dreyfus told French publication L’Alsace. “When you sell a painting, you do research.”
Christie’s say that the information Mondex had identifying the piece as stolen wasn’t available at the time of sale; there has been no decision as to whether Mr. Dreyfus will be reimbursed or not for his loss.
Though there’s little doubt that the outcome was right and the Sisley is back where it belongs, it’s an especially frightening prospect for any investor entering the art market. How can they be sure their investments’ art provenance is watertight, and can anything be done to improve art provenance in the future?
For us, the issues around the need to improve art provenance are just one symptom of a market that has remained essentially unchanged for centuries. It’s fair to say that as well as the creative nature of the sector and investment potential it holds, a lot of people are drawn to the art market because of its exclusive nature.
And therein lies a lot of the problem. There is a lot of secrecy in the art industry – some necessary and very welcome for issues such as client anonymity – but some factors surrounding information about individual artworks that we believe could be made more public in the interests of fairness.
Rewriting art provenance rules with Maecenas
Sotheby’s and Christie’s, for instance, oversee approximately 80% of the secondary art market. Auction houses therefore have almost exclusive control over market information; there is no open marketplace, no order books and little historical information available to the masses.
We’re changing that and bringing the art market into the 21st century with the Maecenas blockchain platform, decentralising and opening the art market to make information more freely accessible and allow investors the world over to purchase shares in some of the world’s most famous pieces of art.
This can also contribute to improving overall art provenance thanks to the blockchain’s transparent, incorruptible digital ledger system, which we’re using to make the art world a lot more open concerning individual pieces of art.
You can find out more about the incredible benefits the Maecenas blockchain project is set to bring to the wider art market to make it more accessible and transparent by reading our briefing documents.