PHOENIX (CN) - A married couple say they paid a New York art dealer $15,000 for a painting by French realist Rosa Bonheur 20 years ago, only to find out this year when they consigned it to Sotheby's that the painting was done by Bonheur's brother.
Richard and Saundra Verri say that in 1991 they bought "Landscape with a Peasant Girl and Her Cow" from Richard L. Feigen & Co., who claimed it was by Rosa Bonheur, "one of the most prolific and famous female painters of the 19th Century," according to the complaint in Maricopa County Court.
The Verris say they "relied on the defendants' expertise and superior knowledge in the area of 19th Century paintings in their purchase of the painting."
The Verris decided to sell the painting in 2010 and sought to consign it to Sotheby's for its "Old Master and Nineteenth Century European Art" auction.
The Verris say that was after they approached Feigen & Co., "to inquire into whether the defendant corporation would be interested in arranging for the sale of the painting," and Feigen replied that "it had no interest in arranging for the painting's sale." the lawsuit claims.
The Verris say Sotheby's told them in March that the painting "was in fact painted by Rosa Bonheur's brother, and that the peasant girl on the swing and the animal appearing in the painting were painted at a later date, and were possibly posthumous additions."
The Verris demanded a refund from Feigen & Co. and "offered to return the painting," but the dealer "affirmatively asserted that they 'had no question' about the authorship of the painting" and cited a letter written in French to prove "they were justified in asserting that the painting was ... an original Rosa Bonheur work," according to the complaint.
Translated, the letter states that "among the sketches of paintings that French Ministry of Culture had reflecting works of art by Rosa Bonheur, only one 'has a subject similar to your painting,'" the complaint states.
The Verris say that the letter "further indicated that it did not have 'complete works by Rosa Bonheur such as one might find in other museums,' and further recommended that the person making the inquiry should contact The Musee d'Orsay, a large French museum with extensive collections of French art dating from 1848 through 1914."
The Verris seek more than $15,000 in damages, punitive and consequential damages, and rescission of contract. They are represented by Robert Rosette and Vanessa Verri, with Rosette & Associates in Chandler.