American Ambassador Sues CEO Of French Auction House Tajan Over Allegedly Withholding 24 Paintings

Craig Stapleton, the former US Ambassador to France, is suing the chief executive of the French auction house Tajan, Rodica Seward, over allegedly withholding a group of 24 of his paintings that she was tapped to resell as part of a deal with the 77-year-old collector.

Stapleton hired Seward in 2010 to secure third-party buyers for the group of paintings he purchased from the auction house, according to a complaint filed by Stapleton’s attorneys with a Paris court. Seward agreed to buy the works from Stapleton.

The documents state that Stapleton agreed to split profits with Seward from the works after recouping the original purchase price. Stapleton claims that Seward failed to sell the works according to their agreement and is withholding information on where the works are currently being stored.

According to court files, Stapleton acquired 32 paintings through Seward between 2011 and 2016, including works by Amy Sillman, Richard Aldrich, Sadie Benning, Farah Attasi and Allison Katz. For 24 of those works, worth a collective €715,886 ($715,474), Seward has allegedly failed to address Stapleton’s requests to begin the resale process or ship the paintings to the US.

In an email to Seward dated from September 2017, Stapleton wrote that as of that month he’d invested a total of $850,000 in the deal and stated that he was “anxious to have a liquidation strategy.” Stapleton is in possession of the remaining eight works he purchased within the five year period.

Between 2019 and 2021, Seward was unable to sell the works despite exchanges in person and via email about the resales. Seward claimed in an email in June 2021 that she’d been clear with the collector about the sales being “a very long-term project.”

In March, Stapleton’s attorney sent a letter to Seward demanding the paintings be returned. In response Seward offered to return only a portion of the group of works, keeping others “as compensation,” for costs related to transportation, storage, framing, and insurance. She asked for an additional sum of €369,380 ($368,870) as reimbursement.

In June, Stapleton’s attorney sent another letter to Seward’s attorney to request the location of the paintings and that a date for their return be set within eight days. Following the request, Stapleton learned that one of the works, Melancholic Interior (2010-2011) by Ioana Batranu, had put up for sale on Tajan’s website. His attorneys were subsequently granted a request for authorities to search Seward’s residence and Tajan offices for the works. Seward has refused to disclose where the paintings are located.

This is not the first time Seward has faced a lawsuit over withholding artworks from consignors. In 2021, Seward and Tajan were accused of planning to sell a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci in agreement with the Musée du Louvre. Seward was accused of failing to notify the owner of the work of a 30-month French export ban on the sale. She refused the owner’s request to return the work.

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