Steven Thomas is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Irell & Manella LLP, where he is the head of the art law practice group. Mr. Thomas is also an Adjunct Professor at the UCLA School of Law, where he began teaching a course in Art and Cultural Property Law in 2001.

Mr. Thomas has advised on the many varied aspects of the purchase, auction, sale, and collection of fine art, as well as cultural property, fine collector cars, memorabilia and collectables. The foregoing include national and international transactions among private collectors, dealers, museums, galleries, and auction houses. His practice in these areas includes addressing the key elements of such transactions, including title, authenticity, condition, value and provenance, as well as due diligence, and pitfalls and protections, for buyers and sellers. Mr. Thomas' practice also includes planning for, and consideration of, foreign, federal, and state tax consequences (including sales, use, income, and personal property taxes); tax deferred exchanges; customs export and import concerns; art insurance (including art insurance review and negotiation of policy terms, provisions and endorsements); intellectual property and domestic and foreign moral rights; resale royalties; and cultural heritage, treaty, and patrimony matters, among others. Mr. Thomas' practice also involves negotiating and drafting purchase and sale agreements, bills of sale, escrow agreements, consignment agreements, appraisal agreements, art advisor and consulting agreements, and other key art market agreements.

As an example, in 2006, Mr. Thomas represented Maria Altmann and the other Bloch-Bauer heirs and negotiated the sale of what was internationally recognized as the world's most expensive painting, Gustav Klimt's "gold" portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, restituted to the Bloch-Bauer heirs by Austria and then sold to the Neue Galerie, New York (and the subject of the 2014 film "Woman in Gold"). Mr. Thomas has also advised on several other world record-setting art transactions, both privately and at auction, including the largest private single art purchase transaction and the most valuable American painting sold. Mr. Thomas counts among his clients some of the world’s foremost collectors, and several of his clients are trustees at a variety of museums. Please see the art practice area section for further description of Mr. Thomas's practice and experience.

Notable Matters

On behalf of private collectors, Mr. Thomas has extensive experience negotiating auction (and private sale) consignment agreements with the world's leading auction houses. In his representation of collectors, he has negotiated some of the largest ever single owner fine art auction consignments and auction house guarantees, including several resulting in world auction records. In 2012, Mr. Thomas represented The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in negotiating the precedent-setting long-term consignment arrangement to sell works of art from the Foundation's collection through Christie's in live auctions, online auctions and private sales, establishing a new frontier for artist foundations in the global market. Mr. Thomas has also written an in-depth article on negotiating auction consignments for collectors, titled Auction Consignment Agreements: Pitfalls and Planning Strategies, published in the April 2009 edition of Estate Planning magazine, which has been described as the definitive guide on the topic. 

Representing private collectors and others, Mr. Thomas has drafted loan agreements for single and multiple works of art to various museums and exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, including addressing tax, copyright, insurance, export, import, and anti-seizure concerns, among other matters. Mr. Thomas also advises private collectors on charitable gifting of art to museums, other institutions and foundations. Mr. Thomas has advised on both public and private commissions of art, involving individual and multiple works for large public and private developments including stadium arenas, town centers and major retail and resort projects.

Mr. Thomas has lectured on art law topics at Stanford Law School, USC Gould School of Law, Columbia Law School's EASLS Symposium, NYU's Art and Cultural Heritage Crime Symposium, and University of Florida Warrington College of Business Poe Center for Business Ethics. He also lectures on art law topics at conferences (including a variety of ALI-ABA and other bar association seminars and conferences, the International Bar Association in London, the USC Tax Institute, the Heckerling Institute, Museum Trustee Association Director's Forum, the National Business Institute and West LegalEdcenter, and the USPTO Global Intellectual Property Academy), museums, legal education programs, art fairs and art-related gatherings (including IFAR, Los Angeles Art Fair and ARCO, Madrid). Mr. Thomas was also sought out to define the "art law" practice area definition for Best Lawyers, and was selected as a Best Lawyer in the inaugural list for art law.

Mr. Thomas has also authored articles on art law issues in a variety of publications, including an in-depth, practical guide for art collectors, titled An Overview of Issues of Interest to the Art Collector. Mr. Thomas has been featured and/or quoted, and some of the transactions he has handled or advised on have been described, in a variety of articles regarding legal issues and other matters of interest to fine art collectors, including in AP, Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, The Guardian, ARTINFO, Art in America, The New Yorker, Forbes, the Art Newspaper, Art & Auction, ARTnews, BBC, The American Lawyer, Boston Herald, Robb Report, Estate Planning Journal, BNA State Tax Notes, ABA Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Daily Journal, San Francisco Daily Journal and Private Wealth Management, among others. Mr. Thomas is also a member of New York's Museum of Modern Art Planned Giving Advisory Committee, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Professional Advisory Committee.

In addition to his work involving fine art, Mr. Thomas has also negotiated and advised on world record-setting transactions involving high-end collectibles, including negotiating the consignment agreement for, and advising on the sale in May 2010 of, the world's then most valuable car – the Williamson 1936 Bugatti 575C Atlantic, as well as negotiating the consignment agreement for the sale of the Otis Chandler Car Collection which set the world record for the highest recorded single-day automotive collection sale.  

Mr. Thomas was selected by his peers in 2007-2016 and 2018 for inclusion in Los Angeles Magazine's Southern California "Super Lawyers." Mr. Thomas clerked with the Honorable John A. Mackenzie, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He also has served on the board of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights and on the board and executive committee of the Inner City Law Center.

Representing a broad base of clients, Mr. Thomas also has extensive experience in a wide array of real property matters, including development, acquisition, and sale of improved and unimproved real property, from commercial to multi-family to major residential estates. His work also includes developing construction and architect agreements for commercial and estate properties, including some of the larger casinos and resorts in Las Vegas and elsewhere in the country, including what was described at the time as the world's largest private development, the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas.

Read More
View More
View More
View More
View More
View More
View More

Bar & Court Admissions

  • 1987, California
  • 1987, U.S. District Court, Central District of California; 1992, U.S. Supreme Court; U.S. District Court, District of Arizona