Matisse family fight over painting copyright

The worlds of art and publishing are on course for a head on copyright clash in the High Court, later this year. The family of Henri Matisse is preparing to sue publishers, Phaidon Press, for damages in respect of alleged use of unauthorised copies of Matisse’s paintings in six books published by Phaidon.

The action has been launched by Paris-based Claude Duthuit, Gerard Matisse, Maria Schrepel, Maria Matisse, Paul Matisse, Jacqueline Matisse and Pierre Matisse, all trading as Les Heritiers Matisse, who now hold the copyright in the work of their famous relative.

In a writ issued by London law firm, Denton Hall, they accuse Phaidon of acting in “flagrant disregard” of their rights, and among other things seek court orders banning Phaidon from infringing their copyright. The Denton Hall partner handling the case is media litigation specialist Suzanne Garbon.

They also seek orders banning Phaidon from printing or selling copies of the paintings, or importing copies, and for delivery up of all infringing copies, and equipment specifically designed for making copies. As far as damages are concerned the Matisse family will ask the judge, when the case reaches court, for an inquiry into the damage they claim to have suffered and for additional damages under the provisions of Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. Alternatively they want an account of profits, and payment of all sums found due.

The claim centres on alleged reproductions of Matisse’s paintings in Phaidon’s books Matisse by Nicholas Watkins, The Art Book, The Art Book mini edition, The Twentieth Century Art Book, Minimum and Minimum mini edition.

The titles of 83 paintings alleged to have been copied without consent are named in the writ. They include Dance 1910, The Joy of Life, The Piano Lesson, The Dinner Table, By the Sea, Blue Nude, Window at Tangier, Portrait of Madame Matisse, Goldfish, Destiny, and Chinese Fish.

Phaidon is accused of knowing that copyright subsisted in Matisse’s work, and knowing it had no permission to reproduce copies of the paintings.

The case in fact began life in 1992, but there have been various delays in it reaching a stage where a court appearance is on the horizon, as a result of questions on probate matters and ownership of the copyright.