Art Law Report

Restitution Claims Resolved in New York and Cologne, New Case Filed Against Germany

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 29, 2016 at 11:51 AM

Word came this week of two resolutions of claims to Nazi-looted art in museums in New York and Cologne, and a new Nazi-looted claim against Germany filed in Washington.  Barely a month after the Neue Galerie (of Austrian and German art) in New York announced that it had discovered a “major work” in its collection had a clouded history, the museum announced an agreement concerning the Karl Schmitt-Rotloff painting Nude (1914).  It is not known if the Schmitt-Rotloff is the same work to which the museum referred last month.  Around the same time, the Wallraff-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, Germany, announced that it had agreed to return a drawing by Adolf Menzel that had been sold to Hildebrand Gurlitt as its owners fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  Blick über die Dächer von Schandau (View over the rooves of Schandau) (1886) will be retuned to the heirs of Hamburg attorney Albert Martin Wolffson and his daughter Elsa Helene Cohen.  These settlements are examples of constructive dialogue and enlightened treatment of the historical fact.  The new litigation likely means the opposite approach from the German defendants.

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Topics: Cologne, Schwabinger Kunstfund, Breslau, Gurlitt Task Force, Germany, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Nazi-looted art, 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(3), Gurlitt, David Toren, Neue Galerie, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, New York, Karl Schmitt-Rotloff, Alfred and Tekla Hess, Streen Scene in Berlin, Adolf Menzel, Strassenzene

No Buried Nazi Gold Train After All?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 17, 2015 at 10:46 AM

Back in September, we voiced curious skepticism about breathless reports of a buried train near Wrocław, formerly Breslau, in Poland.  Rumors of this “Nazi gold train” supposedly concealed at the end of World War II and filled with either gold, art, or both, had an odd mixture of plausibility and absurdity.  Yet Polish officials went on record confirming…something.  On August 28, 2015, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski stated at a press conference that he is “99 percent sure” that the government had located the train allegedly loaded with gold, gems, and perhaps artwork that was buried as the Soviet Red Army encircled Breslau in the last months of World War II.  “The train is 100 meters long and is protected,” Zuchowski said.

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Topics: Soviet, Breslau, Wrocław, Piotr Koper, Red Army, Nazi Gold Train, Walbrzych, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski, World War II, Poland, Washington Post, Janusz Madej, Andreas Richter, New York Times

What to Make of Nazi “Gold Train” Supposedly Buried in Poland

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 1, 2015 at 1:45 PM

I mostly ignored the initial twitterings about a supposedly secret train laden with gold and other Nazi-looted treasures that was buried somewhere near Wrocław, formerly Breslau, in Poland. My reasons were straightforward: just like supposed sightings of the Gardner Museum heist art, or the Amber Room, the story had all the hallmarks of a fable being peddled by someone who, perhaps not coincidentally, was suggesting that they be paid something for their trouble. Whether this is the next Gurlitt saga or just Al Capone’s vault, it’s too early to tell.

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Topics: the Holy Roman Empire, Al Capone’s vault, Soviet, Gauleiter Karl Hanke, Königsberg, Cornelius Gurlitt, Breslau, Wrocław, Prussia, Max Liebermann, East Prussia, Red Army, Nazi Gold Train, Amber Room, Bernsteinzimmer, the Hanseatic League, Walbrzych, Restitution, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski, World War II, Markus Stötzel, Poland, the Duchy of Silesia, Bohemia, Riders on the Beach, David Friedmann, the Kingdom of Poland, Gardner Museum heist, the German Empire

First Painting Restituted from Gurlitt Trove to be Sold; Appellate Court in Munich Breathes New Life Into Will Contest

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 25, 2015 at 2:40 AM

After the restitution of the first two works of Nazi-looted art from the trove of works found in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, David Toren has announced his intention to auction his work, Two Riders on the Beach by Max Liebermann. Toren, now more than 90 years old, remembers the theft of the painting from his uncle David Friedmann in Breslau (now Wrocław). Toren is the only claimant to date to have filed litigation over the Gurlitt case. Sotheby’s will auction the work on June 24. Toren explained his motivation for the sale as follows:

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Topics: Petra Willner, Cornelius Gurlitt, Breslau, Wrocław, Zwei Reiter am Strand, Uta Werner, Max Liebermann, Gurlitt Collection, Two Riders on the Beach, Verena Osgyan, Oberlandesgericht, Gurlitt, Restitution, David Toren, World War II, Mittelbayerische Zeitung, Kunstmuseum Bern, Museums, Berner Zeitung, David Friedmann

Gurlitt Bequest to Kunstmuseum Bern is Upheld, Little Else Resolved

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 30, 2015 at 10:05 AM

A Munich court ruled last week that the will written by Cornelius Gurlitt in the last days of his life that named the Kunstmuseum Bern (an institution with which he had no relationship whatsoever) was valid, rejecting a challenge by Gurlitt’s cousin Uta Werner. It is emblematic of the strange case of Gurlitt and of German’s bizarre handling of the affair, that this decision resolves very few of the pending issues.

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Topics: Conny Leaks, Focus, Carl Spitzweg, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Potemkin Village, Cornelius Gurlitt, Breslau, Henri Hinrichsen, German Minister of Culture, Uta Werner, Gurlitt Task Force, Max Liebermann, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt Collection, Seated Woman, Two Riders on the Beach, Entartete Kunst, Salzburg, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Seuddeutsche Zeitung, Restitution, Catrin Lorch, Bavaria, David Toren, World War II, degenerate art, beschlagnahmte Kunst, Austria, Kunstmuseum Bern, Monika Grütters, Martha Hinrichsen, David Friedmann, Henri Matisse, Jörg Häntzschel, Paul Rosenberg

Gurlitt Will Contest Won’t be Resolved Anytime Soon, Will Likely Delay Restitution

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on February 6, 2015 at 10:41 PM

Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) reported yesterday that the challenge by Uta Werner to her cousin Cornelius Gurlitt’s will may extend late into this year. Werner has petitioned the court in Munich to set aside the last will and testament that named the Kunstmuseum in Bern as Gurlitt’s sole heir and beneficiary of the 1,280 works of art found in his apartment in 2012, as well as those in Salzburg. In November, the Kunstmuseum, the Bavarian government, and the German government announced to great fanfare but little analysis that the museum would accept the bequest and work with the Gurlitt Task Force to sort through objects with questionable provenance related to Hildebrand Gurlitt’s role as an approved dealer of “degenerate art” under the Nazis, and the concern that some of the objects may be Nazi-looted art.

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Topics: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cornelius Gurlitt, Breslau, Henri Hinrichsen, Stefan Koldehoff, Die Bilder Sind Unter Uns Das Geschäft mit der NS-, Zwei Reiter am Strand, Max Liebermann, Germany, Fall Gurlitt, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt Collection, SRF, Hildebrand Gurltt, will contest, Gurlitt, Restitution, David Toren, World War II, Task Force, Die Zeit, Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, Kunstmuseum Bern, Martha Hinrichsen, Raubkunst, The Pictures Are Under Us Business in Nazi-Looted, last will and testament

Toren Amends Complaint Against Bavaria Over Liebermann Seized from Gurlitt, Spotlights Task Force Recommendation of Restitution in Support of Bailment Theory

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 27, 2014 at 6:31 AM

Two weeks ago, the Federal Republic of Germany and Bavaria moved to dismiss the restitution claims brought by David Toren over ownership of Two Riders on the Beach (Zwei Ritter am Strand) by the German painter Max Liebermann. Toren’s uncle David Friedmann owned the painting in Breslau before he was targeted for his collection and it was stolen. Toren had not seen it since adolescence. The painting is further notable for two (related) reasons: it is among the 1,280 works of art found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment in 2012, and it is one of only two that the Gurlitt Task Force has recommended be restituted (to Toren). As we noted at the time of the motion, Germany’s tactics seemed odd; Bavaria has committed to complying with the Task Force’s recommendations, and contesting this case seems to make little sense. The likeliest reason, in our view, is to try to make some jurisdictional law that will weaken other potential claimants to the Gurlitt trove.

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Topics: Schwabinger Kunstfund, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, Breslau, Max Liebermann, Germany, Silesia, Gurlitt Collection, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, bailment, Entartete Kunst, FSIA, Restitution, Bavaria, David Toren, Zwei Ritter am Strand, Free State of Bavaria, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2), Looted Art, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Altmann v. Republic of Austria, Freistaat Bayern, Kunstmuseum Bern, Riders on the Beach, Federal Republic of Germany, Raubkunst, David Friedmann, Münchner Kunstfund

Bavaria and Germany Move to Dismiss Gurlitt Litigation, But Raise Questions About Why They Are Resisting a Lawsuit Over Painting that Task Force Recommended They Restitute to David Toren

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 10, 2014 at 11:04 AM

To date, only one lawsuit has been filed in the United States related to the seizure from Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment of some 1,280 works of art, a story that broke a year ago with the concern about the objects’ Nazi-looting connections via his father Hildebrand Gurlitt (the view here last winter was that the longer Germany failed to address the situation comprehensively, the more likely such U.S. litigation became). That lawsuit, brought by David Toren, seeks the return of Two Riders on the Beach (Zwei Ritter am Strand), by Max Liebermann. Germany and Bavaria moved to dismiss the case yesterday, which is particularly puzzling given that among the very few determinations made by the Gurlitt Task Force (in August), it is that the Liebermann should be returned. The cynical view is that they are looking to forestall future claims, but it is past time for the painting to be returned.

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Topics: Schwabinger Kunstfund, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, Breslau, Max Liebermann, Germany, Silesia, Gurlitt Collection, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, bailment, Entartete Kunst, FSIA, Restitution, Bavaria, David Toren, Zwei Ritter am Meer, Free State of Bavaria, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2), Looted Art, World War II, Altmann v. Republic of Austria, Freistaat Bayern, Kunstmuseum Bern, Riders on the Beach, Federal Republic of Germany, Raubkunst, David Friedmann, Münchner Kunstfund

Gurlitt Task Force Issues Second Public Recommendation, Urges Restitution of Liebermann painting to David Toren—Lawsuit Not Over Yet

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Eileen Kinsella at ArtNet news reported today that the Gurlitt Taskforce has recommended the restitution of the Max Liebermann painting Riders on the Beach (Reiter am Strand) to David Toren, a New York man who left Germany at age 14 in 1939. His great uncle David Friedmann lived in Breslau, the capital of Silesia (now part of Poland, known as Wrocław). The Nazis catalogued and seized Friedmann’s art collection in 1939-40, and the Liebermann painting appears on those records. It was later found among those 1,280 objects seized from Gurlitt a little over two years ago when he aroused suspicion returning from Switzerland with a large amount of cash.

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Topics: Breslau, Eileen Kinsella, Wrocław, Gurlitt Task Force, Max Liebermann, Silesia, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt Collection, Entartete Kunst, Reiter am Strand, August Matteis, Restitution, David Toren, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2), World War II, Switzerland, degenerate art, Poland, Altmann v. Republic of Austria, Kunstmuseum Bern, www.lostart.de, Berner Zeitung, Riders on the Beach, David Friedmann, ArtNet news

The Gurlitt Deal—Prosecutor Gives Collection Back, Agreement Leaves Questions About Process and Transparency

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 9, 2014 at 11:52 AM

The Augsburg prosecutor for the State of Bavaria announced today that in connection with Monday’s agreement with Cornelius Gurlitt, the 1,280 works of art seized from Gurlitt’s apartment in 2012 have been “returned” to Gurlitt. Though it does not appear that the objects have physically changed locations, the state officially lifted the seizure, and now has access to the collection for further provenance research pursuant to the agreement, rather than the compulsory process by which it retrieved them.

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Topics: German Ministry of Culture, Schwabinger Kunstfund, Cornelius Gurlitt, Bundesministerium für Kultur und Medien, Breslau, Augsburg, Willi Korte, London, Max Liebermann, Claude Monet, Christoph Edel, Gurlitt Collection, Ingrid Begreen-Merkel, Alt Ausee, Hildebrandt Gurlitt, stolen art, State of Bavaria, Reiter am Strand, Salzburg, Restitution, David Toren, Müncher Kunstfund, World War II, Task Force, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Freistaat Bayern, NS-beschlagnahmte Kunst, www.lostart.de, Monika Grütters, Riders on the Beach, Raubkunst, Bayerisches Staatsministerium der Justiz, Bavarian Ministry of Justice, Henri Matisse, Paul Rosenberg

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