Information mentioned on Art and Soul Radio Interview - January 25, 2010
My gallery isn't paying me on time. Help! What should I do?

Burned by burnt paintings! Oh no! What shall I do?

Dear Harriete,

A good friend of mine opened a café and I had my paintings/giclees* exhibited there. Last week she had a fire. Most of my work was either destroyed or damaged. My husband also had photography work there and it was smoke damaged. She was under the impression that her business partner had upgraded their insurance to include the artwork (mine was not the only one) and other new equipment that they had acquired. Guess he didn’t. Am I without recourse? Thank You.

By the way, I did have one small piece which was a watercolor framed under glass. The glass protected the painting so that was good.
JK Sanders

 JK Sanders mural before the fire
"Marcies Ghost" © 2008
Mural, Acrylic on wall 2.5' by 4'
Artist: JK Sanders

Wow, very sorry to hear about your work and your friend's business setback. This illustrates the importance of a contract. The primary reason for a contract is not enforcement but to give both parties a checklist of things to do and verify.
If both you and the cafe owner had taken a few moments initially to look over and discuss the issues typically itemized in a contract (including insurance), perhaps this situation would have a better outcome.  

If the venue owner had signed a contract that included an Inventory List specifying the total number of items and value of the exhibited work, then their level of responsibility would have been clear. As it is now, they can easily claim that they never promised insurance coverage or that you knowingly displayed your work at your own risk.  You have only a verbal conversation which is not much to stand on legally.  In this case, I don't think you have any recourse without documentation of the conversation.


JK Sanders mural damaged by fire
"Marcies Ghost" (with damage by fire)

Given the circumstances, it looks like you cannot prove an expectation for insurance.  Both you and the restaurant owner are responsible for this situation. I don't mean to be unkind and I am not a legal expert, so this is just my opinion. Your legal case is weak and hiring a lawyer will cost more money. You could consider taking them to small claims court and making an enemy of a friend. All of these are hard choices. Maybe the cafe owner will voluntarily give you an amount of money out of the goodness of their heart. That is a lot to ask or expect considering their significant loss.


JK Sanders watercolor
"Maxwells Garden View"  and
"Tibby's Trophy" © 2001 (before fire)
Artist: JK Sanders

JK Sanders watercolor
"Maxwells Garden View" 
© 2001 (with fire damage)
watercolor,  24"X30"
Artist: JK Sanders

This is a very hard way to learn a difficult lesson. We can hope that other artists will learn from your well-intentioned but harsh experience.

There are two sample contracts in the Professional Guidelines that can be downloaded for free. Either contract can easily be modified to suit both parties and adapted to the circumstances.  It shouldn't be an adversarial discussion but contracts do oblige both parties to consider "what if" problems.

The Consignment Contract focuses more on retail sales and representation.

The Exhibition Contract is designed for a situation where retail sales are not the primary focus.

Here is a link to the one page handout in the Professional Guidelines which is useful for preliminary discussions when showing your work at any venue. Print it out and keep this on your desk so that you know which topics are already available for your reference.


JKSanders watercolor with fire damage
Coffee Cat Series damaged in the fire.
Artist: JK Sanders

One more issue.   In any scenario where artwork may be exhibited, (especially in an unsupervised environment such as a restaurant where it may be touched), I would fill out a Condition Report before the work is installed. This way if it is returned damaged in any way, you have documentation of its prior condition. 

Despite all this documentation, the primary focus is always to establish a good working relationship. On occasion we all take calculated risks for an exhibition opportunity, so clarifying responsibilities ahead of time tends to be helpful for all parties as events unfold.  It is unfortunate that this one turned out so badly.

If anyone has another suggestion, please leave a comment. I'd like to hear what you have to say. Maybe there is another solution that I didn't consider.

*giclée - the use of ink-jet printing to manufacture artistic prints


Stay tuned for the next posts about galleries and stores that don't pay on time, sample order terms, and net 30 Applications.

This post was updated on January 11, 2022.