How do I get my gallery / dealer to return unsold works?

You will be in a more difficult situation if the relationship between you and your dealer / gallery has broken down, and if you do not have a written agreement.

Matters will be further complicated if your dealer or gallery is located abroad.  It must first be established which country’s laws apply, and then the contents of the agreement between you and the dealer / gallery established.   Without having a written contract it may be difficult to establish when and in what circumstances you are entitled to request the return of unsold works.

As a practical step, and before any work is consigned to the dealer / gallery, you should first contact them saying that you are concerned that there is no written contract between you, and establish what areas of disagreement exist.  Sometimes galleries will seek to retain works against costs that they have incurred on behalf of the artist, such as the costs of exhibiting the work at art fairs, but the artist may argue that these costs ought to be borne solely by the dealer / gallery. You will then need to consider:

  1. bringing the relationship to an end; or
  2. formalizing the arrangement in a written agreement

Consideration should also be given to instructing a solicitor based within the jurisdiction where the art gallery is based if the matter cannot be resolved.

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.