Heirs of artists in line for resale windfall


THE HEIRS of dead artists could be in line for financial windfalls following the introduction of new regulations concerning royalties on the resale of works of art.

Since New Year’s Day, heirs are entitled to a percentage of the price of each work sold by art dealers or auctioneers for up to 70 years after an artist’s death.

Until now, the law only applied to the work of living artists.

The new rules would mean that anyone selling a painting by any artist who died since January 1st, 1942 – including Jack B Yeats, Sean Keating, Paul Henry and Tony O’Malley – would have to pay the levy. The payments are calculated according to a sliding scale and the right is triggered automatically when the sale price exceeds €3,000. For example, a painting selling for €50,000 would incur a royalty of €2,000. The maximum royalty on any one sale has been capped at €12,500.

A Jack B Yeats painting which sold for €1 million last September was not subject to the levy. However, if it had been sold this week, the heirs to the Yeats estate would have been entitled to receive a royalty payment of €12,500.

The regulations were signed into law by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton and announced by way of newspaper advertisements earlier this week. The resale right is based on an EU directive and is in force throughout all EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

The regulations do not just apply to paintings. According to the directive, “original works of art” are defined as “graphic or plastic art such as pictures, collages, paintings, drawings, engraving, prints, lithographs, sculptures, tapestries, ceramics, glassware and photographs, provided they are made by the artist him/herself or are copies considered to be original works of art”.

The directive was inspired by the French principle of droit de suite(right to follow) and was based on a law originally introduced in France after the first World War to assist families of artists killed while serving with the armed forces. Survivors were often left destitute while works of art were being resold for large sums.

Alex Davis, a spokesman for the Irish Visual Artists Rights Organisation, welcomed the new regulations. “It’s brilliant news for the heirs, estates and copyright holders,” he said.

However, fine art auctioneers expressed concern about the practicalities of implementing the scheme.