Interview with David Walton, Head of Art and Heritage Law at Barber Titleys

Barber Titleys is one of the leading law firms in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, offering a range of services to individuals, commercial enterprises and charitable organisations. The firm recently launched an Art and Heritage Law Department, which is multidisciplinary in nature, drawing on the varied skills and experience of the staff to offer a dedicated and holistic service to all those engaged in the visual arts and heritage sectors across the North of England including artists, galleries, collectors, museums and arts organisations. Department Head, David Walton, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the new department, he speaks to Aesthetica about his passion for art and his aims for the part of the business.

A: Where did the idea come from to open a new Art and Heritage law department at Barber Titleys?
I’ve always been passionate about art and cultural history, so it was a natural evolution for me, when I started studying law, to become interested in the ways in which the law impacts upon the visual arts and heritage sectors. Art and the historic environment don’t exist in a legal vacuum and the unique characteristics of, say, a painting, installation, historic object or building often present interesting and occasionally complex legal issues. They may be unique, of high sentimental or financial value, have wider cultural significance and may be particularly vulnerable in one way or another. This also makes transactions involving art or cultural property rather different from “normal” commercial transactions. I’ve always felt therefore that the art and heritage communities in this region would from benefit from a dedicated, multidisciplinary legal service and in Barber Titleys I’ve found likeminded people who are as passionate about art and culture as I am. It’s a perfect fit.

A: What do you aim to do with this new department?
DW: To be of assistance where we can, to keep learning, gradually grow the department, and to enjoy the journey. Our ambition is to become the acknowledged centre of expertise on art and heritage law in the North of England. That would give the people and entities we are aiming at a real alternative to the current, more generalised, offering.

A: Who is it aimed at?
Anyone who is involved with or interested in art, cultural property or the historic environment from artists and photographers to galleries, dealers, collectors, buyers or sellers of art or antiques, auction houses, museums, visual arts and heritage organisations and the guardians of historic properties. It’s pretty wide ranging as we regard the areas of visual art, cultural objects and the historic environment to be closely connected although the law interacts with them in different ways.

A: Why do you think it is important to support the heritage and art industry in this region?
I think it is important because culture is vital for a society’s intellectual and spiritual well-being. In the North of England we are blessed with not only outstanding artistic and historic legacy but also contemporary vibrancy and relevance which, in combination, is without equal, in my opinion, in the UK. Those involved in creating, promoting and preserving this rich fabric perform essential social functions but, up until now, art law has essentially been a London-based niche. We feel that it would be of great benefit to the art and heritage communities in Yorkshire and the wider North to have a friend and guide closer to home which is prepared to invest time, energy and resources in servicing their specific needs from a dedicated, empathetic perspective. We don’t view artists, galleries, museums, collectors etc. as just another client – the art and heritage sectors have characteristics that make them different and these need to be understood and appreciated. As with most things in life, one size does not fit all.

A: What do you have planned next?
I think this will keep us busy for a while but there is conceptual scope within the “idea” to grow to incorporate other things if we decide to do so. But right now, our eyes are focused fully on fulfilling the department’s potential. We also have some interesting ideas on how we can bring the department closer to the community but those are under wraps for now.

A: Any exhibitions you would recommend?
There are quite a few interesting exhibitions and events taking place around the country this summer. Close to home, I would highly recommend Ai Weiwei in the newly restored chapel at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and the Art and Yorkshire exhibition at the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate is also worth a look for its eclectic mix of art and artists with Yorkshire links. Further afield, the Mondrian and his Studios exhibition at Tate Liverpool, Kasimir Malevich at Tate Modern and Radical Geometry (Modernism in South America) at the Royal Academy are all unmissable; and I’m especially excited about the newly-opened Musée Soulages in Rodez, France if I can manage to get down there. As we’ve all experienced, there’s just never enough time to visit everything you want to see!

To find out more about Barber Titleys, visit

1. Image courtesy of Barber Titleys.