Former US ambassador to France sues president of Tajan auction house for more than €700,000 in missing artwork

Rodica Seward, chairwoman of the board of French auction house Tajan, allegedly hid a cache of 24 paintings she was hired to sell as part of a deal with Craig Stapleton, the former United Nations ambassador. United States in France.

According to a complaint Stapleton filed with the Paris Court of Justice, in 2010 he and Seward orchestrated a deal in which Seward would select and purchase several paintings for the former ambassador, which were to be sold to third-party buyers. After the sales, she and Stapleton would split the profits after Stapleton recouped the original purchase price. However, the former ambassador claims that not only did Seward not sell the works as agreed, but that she continues to keep them and refuses to say where exactly they are stored.

According to court documents, between 2011 and 2016 Stapleton acquired 32 paintings through Seward, including works by Amy Sillman, Richard Aldrich, Sadie Benning, Farah Attasi and Allison Katz. Eight of the works were given to Stapleton, which he transported to the United States. The other 24, which together are worth a total of €715,886, have not been sold despite Stapleton repeatedly asking Seward to begin the resale process or ship the paintings to him in the United States.

“As we discussed, I would like to start selling the art we acquired, focusing on high-end pieces. As of September 1, I have invested $850,000 and am looking forward to having liquidation strategy,” Stapleton said in an email to Seward dated Sept. 5, 2017.

In email exchanges and in-person meetings between 2019 and 2021, Seward appeared ready to begin the resale process, but no sale materialized, and in June 2021 she wrote to Stapleton claiming that she had “always made it clear that this was a very long-term project and not a short-term, speculative project”.

In March of this year Stapleton’s lawyer sent a registered letter requesting the return of the paintings. Seward offered to return not all but most of the works, keeping some for herself “in compensation for the cost of transportation, storage, framing and insurance which she claimed to have expended”, charging effectively Stapleton for storing paintings he had paid for and wanted to resell years before. . Additionally, Seward demanded that she be given €369,380, roughly half the amount spent by Stapleton on the missing works, in reimbursement for storage and insurance costs.

In June, Stapleton’s attorney sent another letter, this time to Seward’s attorney, requesting the location of the paintings and that a date for their return be set within eight days. Stapleton would then have discovered via an Internet search that one of his paintings one of his paintings, melancholic interior (2010-11) by Ioana Batranu, had been released online via Tajan. This prompted Stapleton to ask an execution judge to authorize a search of Seward’s home and Tajan’s offices for his paintings. A bailiff searched the two premises, in vain. To this day, Seward refuses to disclose where the paintings are stored.

This lawsuit marks the second time in two years that Seward has faced trial for allegedly refusing to return a work of art to its owner. In 2021, Seward and Tajan were accused of planning to auction a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, in agreement with the Louvre museum, before the expiry of a 30-month export ban without consulting his owner and for refusing to return the work when requested.