July 18, 2018 / 8:47 PM / 5 months ago

Florida family allowed to keep 'Starry Night' house mural

(Reuters) - A Florida couple has won a nearly year-long legal battle for their right to cover their house and wall with a mural of Vincent van Gogh’s famed “The Starry Night” painting, after being told the unusual decoration violated city code.

Nancy Nembhauser poses in front of the house with the "Starry Night" mural painted on it in Mount Dora, Florida, U.S., January 29, 2018 in this handout photo provided July 18, 2018. Courtesy of Pacific Legal Foundation/Handout via REUTERS

The city council of Mount Dora on Tuesday finalized a settlement with Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrzebski, who were told in July 2017 that the painting, which now spans the outside of their home and wall, was not in line with signage rules.

As part of the ruling they will receive $15,000 from the city, about 30 miles northwest of Orlando. Mount Dora will also ‘grandfather’ their home, granting it exemption from further ordinances.

The couple had commissioned the mural to serve as a landmark for their autistic son, whose favorite work of art is “The Starry Night.” In the event he got lost, “he would be able to at least mention the Van Gogh house and people would be able to help and hopefully bring him home,” Nemhauser told Reuters by phone on Wednesday.

The original “The Starry Night,” which hangs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is one of van Gogh’s most recognizable works. The Dutch artist painted it in 1889.

Mount Dora had said the illustration, which has made the house into a minor tourist attraction, was improper and risked distracting drivers, according to city documents.

In February, facing over $10,000 in fines and told to paint over the display, Nemhauser and her husband sued the city for violating their constitutional right to free expression. The lawsuit was settled as part of Tuesday’s decision and recommendations will be made to revise the sign codes.

“Obviously we’re very pleased with the settlement, it accomplished everything we set out to do,” said Jeremy Talcott of Pacific Legal Foundation, who represented them pro-bono.

The lawyer who represented the city could not immediately be reached for comment.

At a joint news conference on Wednesday Mount Dora Mayor Nick Girone apologized to the couple and said the city was pleased to have the matter resolved.

Reporting by Tea Kvetenadze in New York, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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