TORONTO — A high-end auction house has been ordered to further compensate a British art collector for selling him a statue it claimed was by a renowned Inuit artist, even though it knew the piece was fake.
In its decision, Ontario's Divisional Court agreed that Nathaniel Rubner deserved prejudgment interest and other costs related to his battle with Toronto-based Waddington's.
"Mr. Rubner was denied the use of his funds for a long period of time due to Waddington's intentional misconduct," Justice Frederick Myers said in his recent decision.
The case arose in November 2006, when Rubner bought a statue at a Waddington's auction he was led to believe was an authentic piece by Andy Miki, the late sculptor and carver. Miki, from Arviat, Nunavut, was known for his simplified abstract sculptures that depicted animal rather than human figures.
Court records show Waddington's assured Rubner — both in its catalogue and after the sale — that the piece he bought for $10,710 and took home to England was a genuine Miki. The assurances came even though Rubner learned before picking up the piece that someone had raised doubts about its authenticity with the auction house.
"Waddington's assured Mr. Rubner that the work was authentic, and it impugned the motives of those who might say otherwise," Myers said. "Mr. Rubner accepted Waddington's expertise and its assurances that the statue was a 'superb' and authentic work of Andy Miki."
A dozen years after the purchase, Rubner had the Miki statue valued. The appraiser questioned its authenticity, and a leading London auctioneer refused to accept it for sale given the doubts. As a result, Rubner decided he could not in good conscience sell the statue.
Rubner also discovered in early 2018 that the person who had originally warned Waddington's about the work's authenticity was a credible expert.
"The concerns had not been raised by some malicious or self-interested individual as Waddington's had told Mr. Rubner at the time of the purchase," Myers said.
Rubner successfully sued the auctioneer in small claims court. Waddington's offered no evidence to show the piece was authentic or that it had reasonable grounds to believe it was.
The small claims judge found the auctioneer had been negligent, misleading and acting in bad faith when it told Rubner the piece was real. She ordered Waddington's to take back the statue and refund the purchase price, which happened last year. However, the trial judge made no mention of the 13 years of prejudgment interest Rubner had asked for in his suit.
Rubner turned to Divisional Court to ask for $6,000 in interest. Waddington's objected, arguing the trial judge's silence on the issue was intended to mean he didn't deserve the money.
Myers, however, saw it differently, finding the failure to award interest was either a simple oversight or a legal error.
"His loss occurred when he received a worthless fake statue in 2006 and was deprived of his funds," Myers found. "Mr. Rubner is entitled to prejudgment interest as compensation for the lost use of his money from the time the cause arose in 2006 until the date of the judgment."
Myers awarded Rubner his $6,000 in interest and another $5,386 to cover his costs in coming back to Canada and pursuing the appeal.
Waddington's did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 13, 2020.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press