BetterLawNotes-5 (2)

CONTRACT LAW

Alf owns an art gallery buying and selling paintings by contemporary British artists.

On Monday, an elderly man with a handlebar moustache comes into the gallery and expresses an interest in buying a painting entitled Lake at Dawn. Alf and the man agree a price of £5,000. The man asks to pay by cheque and immediately produces, as proof of identity, a recent utility bill and bank statement. These give his name as Rupert Fox and an address in an affluent neighbourhood nearby. Rupert Fox is the name printed on the cheque which the man signs and gives to Alf before leaving the gallery with the painting.

On Tuesday, Cyril comes into the gallery. Cyril has fallen on hard times and has decided to sell a painting of an ugly old woman entitled Hidden Beauty. Alf agrees to buy it and hands Cyril a cheque for £500. Later that evening, Alf’s cleaner, a student on work experience, thinks the painting looks grubby. She applies some white spirit. Dismayed by the result, she swiftly moves on to clean the toilets. The next morning however, the true effects of the white spirit are revealed and Alf realises that Hidden Beauty had been painted on top of an earlier work. The earlier work turns out to be a lost masterpiece, Lucky Find, worth at least £500,000. Unutterably pleased with himself, Alf recounts the whole episode to a journalist from the local paper.

On Thursday, Dirk comes into the gallery and spends a few minutes looking around. When he notices a painting entitled Sky at Night, he becomes visibly excited. A sticker next to the painting says ‘Price on asking’. He tells Alf: ‘Wow! A Banksy! I’ll give you £20,000 for it right here, right now.’ Alf immediately accepts the offer. He had a price of £50 in mind. The painting, as Alf knows, is not by Banksy but by Edna Tipple, an elderly resident at the nearby asylum.

On Friday morning, Alf’s bank manager telephones to say that the cheque drawn on Rupert Fox’s account, which Alf banked on Tuesday, will not be honoured. The cheque was not signed by the real Mr Fox as his cheque book was stolen several weeks ago. Having come off the telephone, Alf then spots Lake at Dawn being put in the window of the art gallery on the other side of the street. It turns out that the owner of the gallery bought the painting the previous day from an elderly man with a handlebar moustache.

Later that afternoon, Dirk storms into the gallery, clutching Sky at Night. He thrusts the painting into Alf’s arms and shouts: ‘You’re a dirty rotten scoundrel! Banksy, my foot! Give me my money back, right now.’ Before Alf can say anything, the door bursts open again. Cyril marches in, brandishing a copy of the local paper and Alf’s uncashed cheque. Cyril points at Lucky Find. ‘That’s mine,’ he thunders, ‘you’ve no right to keep it.’

Advise Alf.

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