Dispute over artist's will lingers two years on

21:52, Jun 03 2014
Bill Evans
UNRESOLVED: Bill Evans, shown with works by his sister Jane Evans on display in her guest cottage in Russell St, is battling the executors of her will.

Two years after celebrated Nelson artist Jane Evans died, members of her family are still battling the executors of her will for what they consider is a fair and properly handled distribution of her assets.

Her 79-year-old brother Bill Evans, acting for the Evans family members who were willed a 50 per cent share, says he's ready to take the fight to Wellington, where he intends to pass out details of the dispute to people visiting the national museum, Te Papa.

But executors Ainslie Riddoch and Diane McKinnon, close friends of Jane Evans, say that a distribution will be made soon and "after that there will only be a minor divvy-up after final tax matters are settled".

"Sure Bill Evans still has questions but he recently agreed to meet with us to discuss these and we are endeavouring to arrange that," they told the Nelson Mail in a joint statement.

Bill Evans is not a beneficiary of his sister's will but his brother and two sons have a 50 per cent share, and have appointed him to act on their behalf.

The remaining half goes to the family of the artist's partner, David Furniss, who predeceased her.


Bill Evans bought the artist's guest cottage in Russell St, where he has moved from his caravan at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park. He successfully bid for it at auction, paying well over the government valuation of $340,000, and has since hung 31 of his sister's works there, after they were handed to his brother and sons by the executors and he bought them at valuation so they would receive a payout without delay.

Members of the Furniss family, assisted by art collector and friend of Jane Evans, Sally Hunt, have the house next door, where the artist lived.

The executors say that the artworks and other possessions were divided between the families "a long time ago", an interim distribution was made to the beneficiaries after the first house was sold, and the necessary processes were under way to make the second distribution.

They expected the estate would be settled "very shortly" and were saddened that Bill Evans had again approached the media over what they considered was a private matter for the families.

However, Evans said he had the agreement of all the Evans beneficiaries to involve the Nelson Mail after he felt blocked in his efforts to sort out the remaining issues with the executors.

He has a long list of points he believes should be dealt with. A prime concern relates to copyright of his sister's works. The executors have told him in writing that their legal advice indicates copyright rests with them, and cannot be assigned.

Evans says he and his brother Douglas, as the closest sibling relatives of Jane, "might be prepared to give up any direct right they may have to the copyright if all copyright was vested and assigned equally between the two beneficiary family groups named in the will".

Failing that, it is likely that he and his brothers will make a joint claim for copyright in their names, he says.

He is particularly concerned about the possible loss of income from fine-art "giclee" prints of his

sister's works, which he says could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

An exhibition of the artist's works offered for sale by Hunt in a current exhibition at the World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum has prices ranging from $18,500 to $42,000. As well one of the artist's paintings belonging to Nelson's Suter Gallery, Flowers from Venice 1993 is on show, with unframed giclee prints for sale at $1000. This painting was given to the Suter under the terms of a trust Jane Evans set up before she died.

A giclee print of a second painting, Strutting Rooster with Audience Entranced 1996 is for sale in the exhibition at $4200, with unframed giclee prints of the same work offered at $1200.

The executors didn't answer Mail questions about copyright, which lasts for 50 years after death.

Canterbury University law professor Jeremy Finn said there was specific provision in the Copyright Act allowing the assignment of copyright and it was "distinctly odd" to say that it could not be assigned.

"The whole basis of copyright is that is an alienable right - you can license it, you can assign it." Executors could assign it to other people with no problem, Finn said.

It was possible for restrictions to be placed on the assignment of copyright after death but that would need to have been written into the will, he said.

The Nelson Mail