Jeff Koons plagiarised French photographer for Naked sculpture

Court rules American artist copied a 1975 postcard by Jean-François Bauret for his 1988 sculpture of two children

The American artist Jeff Koons plagiarised a French photographer for one of his celebrated sculptures, Naked, a French court has ruled.

The judges decided the work, a porcelain sculpture of two naked children produced in 1988, had been copied from a 1975 postcard picture taken by photographer Jean-François Bauret called Enfants.

Rear view of Naked (1988) by Jeff Koons.
Rear view of Naked (1988) by Jeff Koons. Photograph: Phillips Auction House

Koons’s limited company, Jeff Koons LLC, and the Pompidou Centre in Paris were ordered to pay the late photographer’s family €40,000 (£35,000), half of which is intended to cover their legal fees.

Koons’s firm will also have to pay a further €4,000 for having used a picture of the sculpture on his website.

The Pompidou Centre was found guilty, even though it did not exhibit the contested work in its major Koons retrospective, which ran from November 2014 to April 2015. The work was not shown because it had been damaged in transit. But the Pompidou did use photographs of Naked in the exhibition catalogue.

Koons’s one metre-tall work, part of his Banality series, shows a naked boy offering a bouquet of flowers to a naked girl with flowers strewn around the children’s feet.

The court ruled that even if there were slight variations from Bauret’s photograph, these “do not prevent one from recognising and identifying the models and the pose” in Enfants.

The children are in almost identical body positions in both and have the same hairstyles.

Bauret, who died in January 2014, was a celebrated portrait photographer and pioneer of the black and white “nude”. He took the Enfants photo in 1970 and it was later turned into a postcard

In January his widow, Claude Bauret-Allard, told Télérama – a French cultural and TV magazine – that she had been surprised to discover the similarities between the photograph and the Koons sculpture.

“I met a curator of contemporary photography at the French National Library to talk about donating some photos and she showed me all the shots my husband had done that they had already … luckily, this one [Enfants] was in the 1971 collection, so there was a trace of it.”

She added: “Koons reproduced the photo and added the bouquet in order to sexualise the scene: he admitted himself the phallic dimension of this object.”

In December 2015, the American photographer Mitchel Gray accused Koons of reproducing one of his 1986 publicity shots for the series Luxury and Degradation. The result of Gray’s legal action against Koons is unknown.

• This article was amended on 10 March 2017. Because of an editing error, an earlier version described Télérama as a French TV show.


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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