Joan Mitchell Foundation sends cease-and-desist to Louis Vuitton over handbag ads

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The Joan Mitchell Foundation (JMF), a New York-based organisation that oversees the late abstract artist’s estate, sent a cease-and-desist letter to luxury brand Louis Vuitton on Tuesday (21 February) claiming the company used Mitchell’s work in advertisements for handbags without the foundation’s approval.

Photographs that were showcased on Louis Vuitton’s website until Tuesday afternoon show French actress Léa Seydoux modelling the brand’s line of Capucines handbags—which can cost tens of thousands of dollars—in front of what appeared to be Mitchell’s colourful abstract canvases.

The foundation said in a statement it had previously denied repeated requests from Louis Vuitton late last year to use Mitchell’s work in a brand advertising campaign, citing its longstanding policy that images of Mitchell’s art only be used for educational use. The JMF has never licensed Mitchell’s work for the promotion of goods or services, the foundation said.

“It is a grave disappointment to JMF that Louis Vuitton has such disregard for the rights of an artist and would exploit her work for financial gain,” the JMF statement reads.

The JMF did work with the Fondation Louis Vuitton, an art museum in Paris sponsored by Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH, for an exhibition featuring Mitchell’s works alongside those of French Impressionist Claude Monet. The exhibition has been on display since October 2022 and is scheduled to close next week.

The three Mitchell works featured in the Louis Vuitton campaign are all part of the exhibit, according to the JMF: La Grande Vallée XIV (For A Little While) (1983), Quatuor II for Betsy Jolas (1976) and Edrita Fried (1981). By permitting the works to be photographed for commercial use, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is in violation of its agreement with JMF, the foundation said.

JMF threatened to take “further legal action” if Louis Vuitton did not drop the advertising campaign. LVMH did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Art Newspaper.

Louis Vuitton is no stranger to art world deals. The brand’s collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has placed large installations in Louis Vuitton stores all over the world. Another Louis Vuitton ad campaign starring Seydoux from last year shows her modelling the Capucines bags in front of Monet paintings at the the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

The chief executive of Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH, Bernard Arnault, is currently the world’s richest man and one of its leading art collectors. The Fondation Louis Vuitton museum was his brainchild and showcases many works from his collection.

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