Leaf v International Galleries [1950] 2 KB 86

Contract law – Sale of goods – Misrepresentation


The plaintiff purchased a picture from the defendants who represented that it was painted by the artist, J. Constable. Five years later, the plaintiff tried to sell the painting at an auction house and was told it had not been painted by the artist he had been told previously. He subsequently returned the painting to the defendant who retained it for inspection. The plaintiff brought an action to rescind the contract as the defendant had responded maintaining that the artist of the painting was J. Constable, despite the information that the plaintiff had been given by the auction house. The trial judge found in favour of the defendants, despite explaining that they had made an innocent misrepresentation regarding the artist of the painting, on the basis that the contract had been executed.


There were two important issues for the court to provide a decision on. The first was whether the plaintiff had the right to rescind the contract, five years after agreeing on the terms with the defendant. The second issue was whether the mistake as to the painter of the art was fundamental enough to void the contract between the parties.


The plaintiff’s claim had failed as a significant amount of time had lapsed between agreeing the contract and the window to rescind. The court found that the mistake that was made regarding the painter of the art was fundamental but it was not severe enough to make the contract void. On this basis the plaintiff’s claim failed.