Joan Mitchell Foundation accuses Louis Vuitton of unfair use of artwork

French painter Claude Monet's (L and R) and an American artist Joan Mitchell's paintings (C) exposed at "Monet - Mitchell" exhibition
French painter Claude Monet's (L and R) and an American artist Joan Mitchell's paintings (C) exposed at "Monet - Mitchell" exhibition Copyright JOEL SAGET/AFP or licensors
Copyright JOEL SAGET/AFP or licensors
By Jonny Walfisz
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The fashion house has Léa Seydoux posing with a handbag in front of one of Mitchell's paintings. But the legal details of the case might be a bit more complicated.


Has Louis Vuitton stolen the use of artworks by American artist Joan Mitchell? That’s what the foundation of the expressionist has alleged in a recent cease and desist notice sent by their legal team.

In a set of new adverts from the French fashion house, the actor Léa Seydoux is lying, modelling Louis Vuitton’s Capucine handbag. In Seydoux’s background is a painting by Mitchell.

The Joan Mitchell Foundation (JMF) has complained that they didn’t allow Louis Vuitton Malletier’s use of the painting. “It’s important for folks to understand that this wasn’t something we agreed to,” Christa Blatchford, JMF’s executive director, told ARTnews. “How did it even happen, is my question. I honestly don’t understand how it happened on their side. I really don’t.”

Although it might seem an open-and-shut case how Louis Vuitton used the Mitchell artwork without permission, there is a complicating factor. The artwork is on display at the Foundation Louis Vuitton, a private gallery owned by LVMH, the parent company of the fashion brand.

At Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris they are currently holding the exhibition “Monet - Mitchell”. It’s a retrospective dialogue between Claude Monet’s pioneering expressionist landscapes and Mitchell’s abstract expressionism work.

The exhibition started in October last year and will run to 27 February later this week. It contains 35 paintings each from both Monet and Mitchell.

Supposedly, Louis Vuitton reached out to JMF before the advert was run to ask permission. However, JMF refused the request claiming that they have a strict policy that allows the free use of Mitchell’s work for academic purposes but not commercial.

American artist Joan Mitchell's paintings exposed at "Monet - Mitchell" exhibition since October 5, 2022 at the Fondation Louis VuittonAFP

JMF claims that ‘La Grande Vallée XIV (For A Little While)’; ‘Quatuor II for Betsy Jolas’; and ‘Edrita Fried’ have all been used by Louis Vuitton without permission and that “the Fondation Louis Vuitton is in violation of its agreement with JMF.”

In the legal notice, JMF demands Louis Vuitton Malletier withdraw the campaign, provide a full account of where the adverts appeared and issue an apology.

“It’s one of those [situations] where the attorneys are so clear about it just being black and white,” Blatchford said. “We have documentation of the request. We have all of our agreements, all spelled out, and it was just disregarded.”

Blatchford goes on to express sadness that this experience has put a damper on the JMF’s possible future consideration of commercial ventures. She notes it’s especially so given the foundation’s focus on supporting living artists while Louis Vuitton use Mitchell’s artwork to sell a luxury $10,500 handbag.

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