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Wednesday January 23, 2019

Case of the Week

Wild Bill Russell's Art Gift

Case:

Bill Russell grew up on the Great Plains. During his youth, he was a rodeo bull rider and gained fame as "Wild Bill" for his daring exploits. But Wild Bill was an artist at heart and soon decided to move on to his artistic pursuits. He traveled throughout America and Europe and studied all of the great modern and classical artists. In France, he was greatly impressed by the delicate works of Impressionist painters Monet and Manet and the bold colors and brush strokes of Van Gogh. Upon his return to his beloved great plains of the west, Wild Bill combined the subtlety of the Impressionists, the colors of Van Gogh and his own unique skills. His Impressionist western landscapes and paintings of cowboys and life on the ranch became treasured by art collectors nationwide.

Question:

Wild Bill was approached by the Cowboy Western Museum and asked to donate one of his paintings. The museum director noted that they did not have any western Impressionist art and explained that a Wild Bill Russell painting would draw art lovers from America and around the world. Bill was now selling his paintings for $75,000 or more and, as a result, was facing a much higher income tax bill. He asked, "Could I get a charitable deduction for this gift of my painting?"

Solution:

Under current law, Wild Bill Russell will not solve his tax problem with a gift of art. Proposals exist to permit a fair market value deduction for gifts of art donated by the artist who created the work, but have not yet passed.

When Wild Bill creates a work of art, that property is considered work created in "the ordinary course of trade or business." Therefore, his artwork would be deemed ordinary income property. Reg. 1.170A-4(b)(1). If an ordinary income asset is donated to charity, there is a deduction only for the artist's cost basis. Sec. 170(e)(1).

As a result, Wild Bill will receive a deduction for only the cost of creating the painting — his canvas and paints. Nevertheless, since Wild Bill wanted to help the Cowboy Western Museum, he decided to make the gift. But Wild Bill also wrote his Senator and suggested that the law should be changed to permit a fair market value deduction for gifts of art.

At the Cowboy Western Museum, Wild Bill's painting, "The Lonesome Cowboy," caused a sensation. Art lovers from everywhere flocked to view the solitary cowboy on a soft Impressionist landscape. Wild Bill did not receive a large deduction, but had the satisfaction of lifting the souls and spirits of thousands of art enthusiasts.

Published November 30, 2018
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