Playing Darts with a Rembrandt - Should there be limits to what owners can do with their property?

This book explores that issue

So… should I be able to shoot paint balls at my internationally renowned collection of art if the whim takes me? Can I burn my Leonardo sketchbook or make a paper mache pinata donkey with the pages of my Gutenberg Bible just for kicks?

Yes, so long as you aren’t attempting to commit insurance fraud or other violations of law.

Without radically altering our notions of what private property is, yeah, it’s ok.

Theoretically yes, especially if you do it without warning to give an opportunity to stop you.

But we do such things already by preventing the destruction of historic landmarks by their current owners, limiting modifications they can make or at least jumping through significant loopholes before being able to do so. Frequently these restrictions end up being imposed after the owner already owns it.

It doesn’t seem too huge a stretch to have that expand to other types of property.

The problem with saying “No, there should be no limits to what owners can do with their property” is that it would mean your next door neighbour could (for example), turn their house into a casino. Or put a helipad on their roof. Or try and build an Atomic Powered Car.

I’m inclined to think there should be rules regarding “intentional defacement, destruction, or mutilation of historic or culturally significant items”, but once you go down that road (with regards to individual items rather than buildings and things like that), you open up a whole complicated can of worms that would require a lot of forethought before tackling.

Most of these would fall under the purview of an HOA, which you agree to abide by before making a purchase. Other things, like burning your car, probably are covered by other laws not related to property per se. Otherwise, you are completely free to do whatever you want with your property. If there is any concern with this then the items should be purchased by the state.

As has been already noted, we have gone down that road already with “historic” homes. The difficulty with portable property is defining jurisdiction. And conservatives support such limits on the destruction of private property if the property is the American flag - unless they are doing it of course (but that was a different thread).

I think it is unlikely that someone would destroy their investment in a major cultural icon wantonly and doubt that any meaningful widespread consensus could be had on what qualifies as historically or culturally significant enough.

Added to clarify I was responding to the quoted question, rather than the one in the title.

Had a customer that hung lesser Monets and Renoirs on the hallway wall outside their lower level (by the garage) game room. Woke up to a news report that there had been a multi-million-dollar art heist in Florida. As we provided security for some of our customers I reacted with a repeated, “Don’t let it be one of our customers,” prayer.

It was one of them, but he had rejected our offer to monitor his security. In addition, his wife didn’t find it worth her trouble to close the garage door or arm the security when she went to WalMart. We lived well on what he paid to update his security program.

My Google-fu fails me, but there have been many examples of stamp collectors buying additional copies of a particular rare stamp…and burning them to increase the rarity of their original. It’s not a Rembrandt, but then I’m not a philatelist. I can still think the guy who did it is a piece of shit.

If you notice that the Rembrandt depicts a stormy day on the sea of Galilee, you should call the police to take the painting away from that jerk. And pick a nice reward to boot.

The guys who do this are not only pieces of (grabastic amphibian) shit, they are in effect burning great basketfuls of their own money for the privilege of being the Only One In The World to own this or that particular collectible. Why not just lock the extra copies in a safe deposit box for 25 years, then sell them off one by one and be RICH!! RICH HAHAHAHAAAA!!11!???

I mean, seriously, now. What am I missing here?

There are rumors that Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh may have been intentionally destroyed by its owner. It was purchased by Ryoei Saito in 1990 and he subsequently said that he was going to have it cremated with him when he died. After public protest, Saito claimed that he hadn’t really meant it. But Saito died in 1996 and the current whereabouts of the painting are unknown.

This is an interesting question which highlights the difference between European and US Copyright law, specifically the concept of Moral Rights.

Common Law countries like the US and UK take a relaxed view of these rights, such that it would be very difficult for a Rembrandt (or his great-grandchildren, since said rights are supposed to be independent of economic rights) to win a court case against you for mutilating his work.

However, this effectively places a huge burden on the work’s new owner to keep the piece from degrading (either naturally or not). Therefore, even Civil Law countries like France who stick to the Berne Convention as closely as possible have pragmatically allowed complete destructionof the work not to constitute mutilation*. Thus, in France, you could not play darts with your Rembrandt or buy Our Lady of Paris and take potshots at it with a howitzer unless you promised to continue until the parchment was completely ragged, or the building completely destroyed.

Another example of how pragmatism is making European Copyright Law look silly, as if it needed much help.

*eg. The right to destroy a frescoed church wall in Tribunal Civ. Versailles (1932) D.487; Cour d’Appel de Paris (1934) D. 385.

I suppose if one stamp collector is stupid enough to think that destroying part of his own collection can make the total value of his collection increase, maybe there’s another stamp collector who is stupid enough to fall for it?

It’s not a linear relationship. If an extremely rare stamp, of which there are five specimens, is worth $10,000 and a unique stamp is worth $60,000, then it would make economic sense to buy all five stamps and destroy four of them.

I would have thought it would make sense to buy all five and say you’d destroyed four of them, but actually put them in a safe deposit box somewhere like Belgium or Zurich or Antwerp, and then provide your solicitor with a sealed letter to be opened only after every other item of your estate has been finalised (ie, the “One of a kind” stamp has been sold) after your death, containing the deposit box’s location and access authorisation. When they open it- hey look, there’s a pleasant surprise for the philatelic community and- more importantly- your heirs.

I know, it’s all very much like something out of a Frederick Forsyth or Robert Ludlum novel, but that sort of stuff is pretty cool…

It’s hard to predict price on things like this but my guess is that the added price a collectible would gather from being of the last of its kind would be pretty dependant on people accepting it’s the last of its kind. If you buy all five, the default assumption will be that you’re keeping possession of all five - you’d probably have to provide proof otherwise to convince people the one you’re selling is the sole survivor.

That said, you might be able to work out a blackmail angle. Announce that once a month for the next four months you’re either going to burn a stamp or sell it for $60,000. If there are no buyers you’ll eventually have a unique stamp worth $60,000. But if other collectors are too horrified by your plan to burn the other four, all they have to do is step in and buy them.

I think the Buddhist answer is that everything passes, nothing material is eternal.
I once thought all my photographs were gold, and when queried, most people say that’s the single thing they would want most saved from a burning house. But mine were burned in a house fire and life went on.
Recall when the Taliban raised ire for destroying a 90’ Buddhist statue carved in a wall a millennium ago? The world was outraged, Yet for the prior years they were killing women, oppressing girls, burning theaters, but the west only cared about relics, because that’s something they can visit. Pretty shallow when put in those terms.

I don’t think you characterize world sentiment accurately. For one thing, I’ve heard more outrage about the Taliban’s treatment of people, women in particular, than about their destroying the statues. But there was plenty of outrage about the statues, too. I think most found it outrageous that in such a short period of time these people could take from the world something that has been so impressive for so long. I, myself, cared about all of these things, and don’t imagine that I would ever have visited the statues.