In an astonishing case, a widow who sued a gallery for losing her painting has been ordered to pay costs of the litigation of £200,000.
The woman's late husband bought the Rolf Harris piece, ‘Lovers on the Seine II’, for £95,000 and stored it in Castle Galleries for safekeeping. After he died, his widow tried to reclaim the painting but it was nowhere to be found.
The gallery changed ownership while the painting was in storage and the widow sued the new owners for the loss. At the first court hearing, the judge was scathing in his criticism of the new gallery owner’s chief executive and said that he was personally and dishonestly to blame. The widow was awarded £135,000.
The Court of Appeal overturned this judgment, however, on the basis that the original judge’s view had been tainted by his dislike of the gallery’s chief executive. Because the widow’s lawyers had never demonstrated that the new owners had been in possession of the painting, the claim could not be brought against them, but had to be brought against the insurers of the previous gallery. Unfortunately, because the gallery owner's appeal was successful, the court also ordered the widow to pay all the costs of the litigation.