The absence of tire tracks in the snow led investigators to believe the painting’s thief had worn snowshoes.
That detail is one ARIS Title Insurance Corporation president Mary Buschman recalls clearly 25 years after several of her family’s paintings were stolen – the largest one ripped from its frame, which lay discarded on the floor.
For more than a decade, Buschman wondered what had happened to that particular painting, which had been in her family for 80 years. Then one day, she saw an online sales listing from an art gallery in New York.
“There it was,” she recalls. “It was the same painting. It was unbelievable.”
By then, Buschman was running her own gallery and attending law school. She visited the gallery and confirmed she had indeed found the missing work. Her family had pictures and other proof of ownership. Yet the process of seeking the painting’s return dragged on for more than two years, in part because it had been sold several times after its theft.
With the case at a standstill, Buschman paid a visit to another gallery owner – the one who had initially bought the stolen painting.
“I was nice, but I was very firm,” she recalls, explaining that a day later, the gallery owner signed the agreement, clearing the way for the painting’s return.
The experience gave Buschman a perspective that prepared her to be a leader in the highly specialized art title insurance market.
“Things can go wrong, to where you’re unknowingly buying something from a thief,” she says. “With slightly more due diligence, the gallery in my case may have been able to avoid it.”
A specialized solution for a special kind of risk
Ownership is critically important in art and collectible transactions. How can a buyer be certain the sculpture she wants to buy is actually being sold by its legal owner? How can the owner of a vintage car be certain it’s actually his to sell?
The stakes are high: A buyer can lose a piece of art or an object – and the money paid for it – if someone makes a successful title claim.
The ARIS Art Title Protection Insurance (ATPI) policy offers protection from such risk, as underwriters research how best to answer the ultimate question: Does a collector have legal title to a piece in order to buy, sell, lend it for exhibition, use it for collateral or give it as a gift? The answer is critical for ARIS’ clients, who include collectors, art dealers, galleries, museums, nonprofits, financial institutions, art investment funds and capital providers.
“Most people reach out to us when there is some kind of impasse, some sort of hiccup,” Buschman says. “Someone else wants the painting, or it’s jointly owned by siblings or a couple getting divorced. Maybe, all of a sudden, the seller has backed out for some reason.”