Theft of artwork and subsequent reselling of the item is a controversial topic. History presents many examples of art theft and the most notorious was the looting and plunder by the Nazis during WWII. Stolen items recovered in Germany by the Allies at the end of the war but there are still stolen items on the market today that have not been returned to the rightful owners. This question of ownership can lead to a great deal of financial and emotional stress in art buyers because buyers are learning that just because they bought the painting, does not mean they own the painting.
In your answer, you promote the country’s right to own a piece of artwork, but I believe that the piece belongs to the individual. The legality of who actually owns the artwork is a challenging question because if the original owner had the piece stolen from them, they are still the owner. If that same stolen piece is sold again but the buyer is unaware the piece was stolen, who is the correct owner? Legal precedence seems to be on the side of the original owner and this can cause major financial hardship for the new owner if they did not do enough due diligence before buying the piece. In the article “True Art Ownership” by Rebecca Woan, prospective buyers can protect themselves by going through a reputable art dealer, purchasing insurance coverage and researching art theft related databases to see if the piece they plan to buy has a potentially incriminating history (2010). Buyers who do not go through this process can find themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit that results in the loss of the artwork as well as the original investment.
Art theft and the question of ownership is an issue that will continue to plague the art world for years to come. As with any purchase, this is an area that will increasingly benefit from a ‘buyer beware’ mentality.
Woan, Rebecca. 2010. True Art Ownership. Personal Wealth Magazine (online). Retrieved from http://www.fa-mag.com/news/true-art-ownership-5414.html.