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An ‘exemplary’ presented case: Freshfields-advised Sotheby’s prevails against claim it mistook a Caravaggio for a copy

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has successfully had dismissed a multimillion pound lawsuit against auction house Sotheby’s concerning whether a painting of The Cardsharps was properly analysed and catalogued.

Lancelot William Thwaytes, who instructed Boodle Hatfield’s head of litigation Simon Fitzpatrick, claimed Sotheby’s ‘failed in its duty’ to advise on what some art experts now believe to be an original Caravaggio.

Thwaytes sued Sotheby’s, which instructed Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer litigator Paul Lomas, alleging he was given negligent advice. The Cardsharps, the original of which is on display at Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, was catalogued as by a ‘follower’ of the Baroque master and sold by the auctioneer for a hammer price of £42,000.

The buyer was the wife of Caravaggio collector Sir Denis Mahon, who in November 2007 at his 97th birthday declared the painting a Caravaggio and insured it for £10m. Thwaytes claimed the auction house should have consulted with a wider range of scholars and undertaken x-rays.

However, Mrs Justice Rose, dismissed the case and noted: ‘They reasonably came to the view on the basis of what they saw that the quality of the Painting was not sufficiently high to indicate that it might be by Caravaggio.’

She added: ‘The painting probably would have made slightly more at auction or by private treaty if it had been sold with a catalogue entry detailing the positive and negative attributions of respectable scholars but not a great deal more.’

Boodle Hatfield instructed Henry Legge QC of 5 Stone Buildings. Lomas, who formerly led Freshfields’ global commercial disputes team, instructed Andrew Onslow QC of 3 Verulam Buildings. Rose concluded: ‘I wish to record my gratitude for the exemplary way in which this fascinating case was presented at trial by Mr Legge QC for Mr Thwaytes and Mr Onslow QC for Sotheby’s, and for the huge amount of work put into the preparation of the case by the legal teams and by the expert witnesses.’