• U.S.

Art: Droit de Suite

3 minute read

¶George H. Kay, 68-year-old landscape artist, blew out his brains in Cheyenne Wells, Col. fortnight ago. No U. S. artist ever sold so many pictures. A rapid draughtsman, he painted the same scene over & over again. In Kansas City a department store sold 6,000 original Kays by advertising OIL PAINTINGS BARGAIN PRICE $2.98. Before he died he left a note: “Cremate my body and scatter the ashes to the four winds of heaven. Everything is gone. I have 15¢ left.” ¶Robert Spencer, able portraitist, 1928 judge of the Carnegie Institute International Exhibition at Pittsburgh, blew out his brains last week at New Hope, Pa., crazed by overwork and worry.

France, who honors and protects her artists, does her best to make such suicides of comparatively successful men impossible. Such completely noncommercial artists as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso have incomes not unbecoming bankers, and it is not entirely due to the direct sale of pictures. The law protecting the rights of artists in France will be eleven years old this week.

When an author writes a book or a musician composes an opera, the civilized world has agreed that their interests in those properties do not cease with the first sale. In the U. S. they and their heirs may collect royalties for 28 years with the option of renewing the copyright for an additional 28 years. On July 20, 1920 the French Chamber of Deputies passed a law known as the droit de suite (literally, “right of following”) which attempts to do for the original works of a painter or sculptor what copyright laws do for the other arts.* By it at every public sale of a work of art. a French artist or his heirs collect royalties of 1% for sales of 1,000 to 10,000 francs, 1½% for sales between 10,000 and 20,000 francs, 2% for sales between 20,000 and 50,000 francs, and 3% for everything higher.

In order to protect an artist’s heirs the droit de suite is obligatory, though it does not apply to private sales between artist and client. The law is effective for 50 years after the death of the artist. Both artists and collectors applaud it.

In the U. S. where living is high, artists’ materials expensive, even an unknown artist must charge a very high price for every original work of art if he is to live. In France under the droit de suite, an artist can afford to sell a painting for $10, or even give it away.

The droit de suite occasionally rights wrongs. In 1926 The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau, who died in poverty, fetched 420,000 francs ($16,800) at a Paris auction. Rousseau’s sister, a Mme Bernard, sued the original owner, M. Eichenberger, for her 3% ($504) which he refused to pay on the grounds that it was not a real sale. His own agents had bid the picture in at the reserve price of 420,000 fr. when it was not exceeded. In court, Mme Bernard won her $504.

*Of course reproduction rights of any painting may be reserved under copyright laws.

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