Pretoria - “I cried like a baby when my three paintings were stolen and sold. They were like my children.”
These were the words of Pieter Janse van Rensburg, 64, a Willows artist. He has been embroiled in a legal tussle with a Pretoria North art gallery, which sold his three paintings worth R1.5 million.
But Friday was a happy day for the artist when the high court in Pretoria ordered Alette Wessels, owner of the Alette Wessels Kuns-kamer in Maroelana, to return the paintings to him within 30 days.
The paintings - Lady in a Dressing Gown, Standing Nude With Red Hair On A Green Cloth and Nude - were painted by Ruth Everard.
They were allegedly taken from Janse van Rensburg’s home by his lodger, only identified as Gerhard.
Wessels said she believed the paintings belonged to Gerhard and sold them to a man identified as a Mr Van der Merwe. But Judge Peter Mabuse said Wessels knew the paintings did not belong to Gerhard, but to Janse van Rensburg, and was not permitted to sell them.
Janse van Rensburg told the court he was the owner of the paintings and he gave no one permission to take or sell them. He said Gerhard took the paintings from his home without his knowledge or consent.
Gerhard acknowledged that he handed the paintings to Wessels. She confirmed this, but said Gerhard told her the paintings were his.
Janse van Rensburg testified that he asked Wessels to give him the new owner’s details, but she refused, to protect the identity of her clients.
Wessels, however, told the court she would recover the paintings if the court ordered her to do so.
Shortly after the paintings were taken in August 2013, Janse van Rensburg’s attorney sent an e-mail to Wessels, saying the paintings belonged to his client. Judge Mabuse said this should have warned Wessels that the paintings did not belong to Gerhard and she should have investigated. She, however, did not.
The lawyer also told Wessels at the time that his client was not initially aware that Gerhard took the paintings from his premises. This, according to the judge, should have sounded even more warning bells.
The judge said Wessels simply “buried her head in the sand” and insisted Gerhard was the owner. Wessels had no justifiable reasons to believe the paintings belonged to Gerhard and should have suspected all was not in order, he said.
Janse van Rensburg scored a second victory over Wessels after the court ordered her to pay him compensation for badmouthing him. Janse van Rensburg claimed R250 000 damages in this regard, but the amount will be determined later.
This followed claims by Wessels that Janse van Rensburg and Gerhard were in a homosexual relationship and involved in fraud relating to artwork. Janse van Rensburg said this was untrue and defamatory.
Following his legal victory, he said he was devastated when the paintings were stolen, especially Lady in a Dressing Gown. “Ruth Everard taught me art when I was a child and I lost my heart on the painting. I could only buy it after I’d worked for years.” He had the painting since the early 1980s.