In a compelling legal saga, an elderly Frenchman (known as A.B.) has successfully navigated a years-long dispute with the French Ministry of Culture, securing the right to sell a valuable Leonardo da Vinci drawing of Saint Sebastian that he inherited. Valued at $15.6 million, the artwork had been embroiled in an export license controversy.
The story began in 2016 when A.B. sought permission to auction the drawing at the TAJAN auction house in Paris. French law dictates that artworks and cultural treasures of national importance require export licenses. Initially, A.B.’s request was denied, and the Ministry of Culture expressed interest in purchasing the piece for €10 million on behalf of the Louvre. A.B. declined the offer.
Following this, the artwork underwent an evaluation, which concluded with an approximate value of $15.6 million. Despite the valuation, the Ministry of Culture took an unusual approach by hinting at the possibility that the artwork had been stolen. They demanded proof of its legal acquisition when A.B. reapplied for an export license in 2021.
A.B. responded by involving legal representation and refuted the allegations through a letter to the ministry. When the then-Minister of Culture, Roselyn Bachelot, failed to respond to A.B.’s requests, he sought a court-ordered injunction. This injunction, granted last week, compels the ministry to issue the export license within 60 days and covers A.B.’s legal costs of €2,000 ($2,120).
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