De Balkany v Christie Manson and Woods Ltd: QBD 19 Jan 1995

Over-painting was deemed to be a forgery within the Christie terms and conditions. The exception was excluded. Christie’s was liable under the guarantee it had given. Morison J also considered (obiter) the defendant’s possible liability in tort, and whether they had assumed responsibility for the attribution: ‘I first look at the question generally without reference to the conditions.
The special features of this case are that Christie’s themselves have sole discretion over how they describe a lot. This fact is made known to buyers, in the sense that Christie’s disclose to potential bidders some of the terms on which they are acting for the seller. Christie’s employ skilled personnel who take considerable trouble to satisfy themselves as to the accuracy of the catalogue entries. This is well known. Buyers will know, therefore, that Christie’s have satisfied themselves as to the authenticity of a Lot, and the cataloguing practice which is disclosed, gives considerable latitude for appropriate qualifications where Christie’s are of the opinion that such is called for. The buyer is required to pay a substantial premium to the auctioneer. If the auctioneer assumes no responsibility to him, one might ask what the payment is for. On the other hand, in normal circumstances, a buyer has no reason to believe that an auctioneer has assumed any responsibility to him. The auctioneer is the seller’s agent. The buyer only becomes contractually bound by the conditions when his bid has been accepted.
On balance, and primarily because Christie’s take responsibility for the catalogue description which is an important feature from the buyer’s point of view, and because the buyer pays a premium, I would be inclined to the view that there was an assumption of responsibility such that Christie’s become liable to a buyer for negligent misstatement in the catalogue entries.
Do the Conditions affect this conclusion? Condition 3(a) says that statements in the catalogue are statements of Christie’s opinion. Condition 11(a), under what might be thought to be an inappropriate heading ‘Guarantee’, excludes responsibility for the ‘correctness’ of any such statement but it does not, in terms, exclude responsibility for negligence. Condition 3(c) says that buyers must satisfy themselves as to the opinions expressed in the catalogue. I am, somewhat reluctantly, forced to the conclusion that Christie’s have made it reasonably clear that they have not assumed any responsibility to the buyer for the way in which the statements in the catalogue are prepared.
In my judgment, a buyer at Christie’s, as a buyer at a car auction, must satisfy himself about the goods and cannot, in law, rely upon what Christie’s have said. The only right which a buyer has is that given to him by clause 11(b) where there is a forgery or where Christie’s have been guilty of deceit. I do not regard this conclusion as satisfactory because it means that a buyer has got nothing of substance for his premium.’


Morison J


Independent 19-Jan-1995, (1997) 16 Tr LR 163


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedMorin v Bonhams and Brooks Ltd and Another ComC 18-Mar-2003
Claim for rescission of contract for purchase of Ferrari car at auction after discovery of alteration to odometer.
Jonathan Hirst QC said (after discussing the Christie’s case): ‘Plainly this authority provides substantial ammunition for BandB . .
CitedMorin v Bonhams and Brooks Limited Bonhams and Brooks S A M CA 18-Dec-2003
The claimant had bought a vintage Ferrari motor car through the defendant auctioneers in Monaco but sought rescission after it appeared that the odometer had been altered. The auction conditions purported to exclude any description of the car. He . .
CitedAvrora Fine Arts Investment Ltd v Christie, Manson and Woods Ltd ChD 27-Jul-2012
The claimants had bought a painting (Odalisque) through the defendant auctioneers. They now claimed that it had been misattributed to Kustodiev, and claimed in negligence and misrepresentation.
Held: Based on the connoisseurship evidence, the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contract, Torts – Other

Updated: 08 April 2022; Ref: scu.79849