ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Of Windfalls from Mistake and Breaches of Auction Contracts

A few months back, we brought you the heartwarming story of a couple that purchased a small, valuable painting by N.C. Wyeth (self-portrait, Wyethleft) at a thrift shop for $4.  It was expected to fetch up to $250,000 at auction.  

Now, the bad news.  According to Matt Stevens writing in The New York Times, the painting sold for only $191,000 at auction.  And now the worse news.  The buyer never paid and never arranged for delivery of the painting.  The auction house sent the sellers a shrug emoji.  These things happen.  The buyer is located in Australia, a vast, lawless wasteland, where the inhabitants daily confront spiders the size of your face and more dangerous, venomous spiders that hide in your shoes.  Not to mention the pythons that hide in trees and then drop on unsuspecting passers-by (mostly tourists).  Breach of contract is nothing to such people.  A mere auction house is powerless in these circumstances.    

The sellers are philosophical.  They are not out any money, and the auction house returned the painting to them in a lovely cardboard box.  If they have a cat, that cat no doubt values the box at something around $191,000.  If they don't have a cat, they should get one, and then the family's hedonic sum will then equal what it would have been had the Australian paid up.  

[Editor's note: an earlier version of this post identified the painting as created by Andrew Wyeth, N.C.'s son.  Thanks to Jim Fishman for the correction!]

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