Signature & Taxation
Why did an American artist sign
a European painting?
Researched and written by: Janet
American artists frequently studied, painted
and traveled in Europe.
The American artists flocked to Monet’s Giverny to paint. American artists, art dealers and travelers aware of the duty
on art would sign their own names to the art of European artists to avoid paying taxes. In some cases the art came to America with no signature because it was a study. This art was considered educational for exhibition
or art academic study. This classification of imported art was transported to the US duty free. In 1907 the US
government started indictment proceedings against American art dealers and US citizens for evading the duty on imported European
The following citation written on the occasion
of the Paris Impressionist's exhibit in New York City supports
Luther Hamilton, The Work of
the Paris Impressionists in New York, The Cosmopolitan
(June 1886) p. 242.
“No sooner were they
seen in New York than various of the more intelligent critics
and patrons of art cried out with zeal that this picture and that ought to be kept in the country. It is easy for everybody
to see what a revolutionizing lift Lerolle’s great picture he calls “The Organist” would give that stupid
Metropolitan Museum of ours, for instance; But all plans for the purchase of any picture in this collection must perforce, be of the character of the ways that are dark and, all too probably, in the line of tricks that
The "ways that are dark" is deception created
by adding an American’s name to a picture, to keep it in America
or transport it to America. The "tricks
that are vain", is someone other than the creating artist, who signs the work and gains credit for it's creation. (Janet
G. Smith, January 31, 2005)
imported from abroad to America was heavily taxed under the “33 Tax” from
1882-1891 at the rate of 33.3 percent. The duties/taxes were levied when the art arrived in America.
“Free Art” was
one political platform during William Jennings Bryan’s campaign for the Populist Movement. “Free Art” was
no taxes/duty on art coming to America
from abroad. The "33-Tax" had an adverse effect on American art and repeal of this tariff was a hot topic. This platform was
designed not only to encourage the new middle class and wealthy to support the Populist Movement, but to allow immigrants
to bring inherited or family art to America.
This protectionist tariff was
designed to assist the regional American artist. In reality the tariff created the perception, that American art was
less valuable than European art. The economics created by American dealers recouping the tariff by increasing the price of
imported art to the consumer confirmed this perception. No doubt the inclusion of “Free Art” as a Populist political
platform encouraged Congress to make a change.
Albert Williams, Mineral
Resources of the United States, (Washington, GPO, 1883) pp. 777-787.
Appendix. The New Tariff.
"At the close of the 2nd session of the 47th Congress the tariff bill entitled 'An act to reduce internal-revenue
taxation, and for other purposes,' was passed. It was approved by the President March 3, 1883, and is now in force."
Ibid. p.777. Sec. 2502. "There shall be
levied, collected, and paid upon all articles imported from foreign countries, and mentioned in the schedules herein contained,
the rates of duty which are, by the schedules, respectively prescribed,"
Ibid. p. 777. Sec. 2503. Free
List. "Works of art, painting, statuary, fountains, and other works of art, the production of American artists. But
the fact of such production must be verified by the certificate of the consul or minister of the United States indorsed upon
the written declaration of the artist; paintings, statuary, fountains, and other works of art, imported expressly for the
presentation to national institutions, or to any State, or to any municipal corporation, or religious corporation or society."
Ibid. p. 778. Sec. 2508. "All
paintings, statuary, and photographic pictures imported into the United States of exhibition by an association duly authorized
under the laws of the United States, or of any State, for the promotion and encouragement of science, art, or industry, and
not intended for sale, shall be admitted free of duty, under such regulations as the Secretary of Treasury shall prescribe.
But bonds shall be given for the payment of United States of such duties as may
be imposed by law upon any and all of such articles as shall not be re-exported within six months after such importation."
Wildenstein, Claude Monet
(1840-1926) A Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff, Exhibition Catalog. NYC April 27-June 15, 2007,
(Wildenstein Publication, 2007) p. 85.
"September 1883 American Exhibition
of Foreign Products, Arts and Manufacturers, the introduction to the catalogue stated, By the Act of Congress of the United
States, approved by the President of the United States June 28, 1882 all goods intended for this exhibition are admitted to
remain in bond FREE OF DUTY while on exhibition.”
John Rewald, Durand-Ruel: 140 Years,
One Man’s Faith, Art News 42 (Dec 1943) pp.177-179.
"The USA art dealers in 1887 created problems
for Mr. Durand-Ruel Monet's by the enforcement of the government import duty."
Annie Cohen-Solal, Painting
American, (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2001) p. 75.
returned to New York...but found himself prohibited to sell
them: American art dealers, incensed by his shrewd businesss sense as well as his monopoly over painting by the French Impressionists,
had in the interim, demanded that the government apply the '33 Tax'-a 33.3 percent duty on the works of art imported from
abroad. However, this trade barrier couldn't alter one simple fact: after thirty years of profitless toil, the French Impressionist
had finally found a market."
Ibid. p. 107. "Tax on imported
products had been raised from 10 to 33.3 percent in 1883."
Ibid. p. 108 "Whistler...'I will only come back to America
when the customs laws on art are withdrawn.'"
Ibid. p. 109 "In 1887, Jean-Leon Gerome
wrote a lengthy, withering letter of protest...All over the world works of art were duty free. In one country alone were they saddled
with an excessive tax and that country was the youngest, the greatest and the wealthiest of nations."
Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1965) p. 789.
planks were free and limitless coinage of silver at a ratio of 16:01, free art league, produce sub-treasuries similar to the
1780s, 8 hour work day, and other platforms."
Sarah Wool Moore, History and Art, 1888,
(Nebraska State Historical Society Publication-UNL, 1892) p. 40
"Works of art should be welcomed to our country
as are intelligent emigrants, there should be no admission fee, but like people who crowd to our shores, they should be required
to play their part in the development of our race."
Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Charles
M. Kurtz Papers 1843-1990, Finding Aid, last date accessed/July 15, 2007.
Biographical Note -1907- accused
of importing German pictures free of duty for exhibition purposes and then selling some for profit.
Kimberly Orcutt, Buy Art? The Debate Over the Art Tariff, (American
Art, Vol. 16, No 3, Autumn 2002) pp 82-91.
"Not surprisingly, the dollar value of foreign art works imported to
the United States plummeted from over $3 million to $637,000 in the first year of the 30 percent tax."
Notes researched, compiled &
Janet G. Smith, ISA
Member of the International Society of