Art Law Report

Nazi-Looting and Forced Sales Support Jurisdiction—Guelph Treasure Ruling Analysis

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 3, 2017 at 10:02 AM

The decision on Friday to allow our clients’ claims to proceed against German and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz for the restitution of the Guelph Treasure (or Welfenschatz) is ground-breaking in important respects, and a welcome part of a consistent progression in the law of sovereign immunity over claims for Nazi-looted art.  As we noted in our initial reaction, it is the first decision in which a U.S. court has held that it has jurisdiction over Germany or an agency or instrumentality of it under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) for a claim to Nazi-looted or purchased art—though others have certainly tried—in this case finding the so-called expropriation exception applies.  Critically, it recognizes that claims about forced sales in the early days of Nazi persecution indeed create jurisdiction.  Moreover, the court agreed with our clients that Germany’s various excuses to avoid litigating the substance of a forced sale involving Hermann Goering based on pleas for deference or respect to the flawed Advisory Commission are no reason to dismiss the case.  

Read More

Topics: Guelph Treasure, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, SPK, Advisory Commission, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, FSIA, Preemption, expropriation exception”, NS Raubkunst, sovereign immunity, Welfenschatz, HEAR Act

U.S. District Court Issues First of Its Kind Ruling Against Germany Over Renowned Guelph Treasure

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 31, 2017 at 4:32 PM

Under Landmark Ruling, Germany Must Now Defend Nazi-Looted Art Claims in U.S. Court

WASHINGTON (March 31, 2017)- The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that claims over the famed Guelph Treasure can proceed against Germany in a United States court. This is the first time Germany will have to defend itself in the U.S. against allegations of looted Nazi art and artifacts. The claims arise out of the 1935 forced sale by a consortium of Jewish art dealers to Hermann Goering’s minions of the famed collection of medieval artifacts known as the Guelph Treasure.  The claims were filed by clients of Sullivan & Worcester LLP against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, or SPK).  The court rejected the Defendants’ arguments that they are immune from suit and held that the Plaintiffs’ claims can be considered a taking of property in violation of international law for the purpose of evaluating the court’s jurisdiction over Germany and the SPK..  Jed Leiber, Alan Philipp, and Gerald Stiebel may now proceed to litigate their claims for  their property’s rightful return.  Leiber, Philipp, and Stiebel are also represented by S&W’s co-counsel in this matter, Markus Stötzel and Mel Urbach, experienced counselors in the return of Nazi-looted art who have been fighting this case for over eight years and who decried Germany continuing to defend the Nazis’ and Herman Goering’s theft from Jews.

Read More

Topics: Guelph Treasure, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Mel Urbach, SPK, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, FSIA, expropriation exception”, NS Raubkunst, J.S. Goldschmidt, Markus Stötzel, Saemy Rosenberg, Adolf Hitler, Federal Republic of Germany, Zacharias Hackenbroch, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, Paul Körner, Wannsee Conference

Gurlitt Bequest to Kunstmuseum Bern is Upheld

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 15, 2016 at 9:48 AM

Cousin Had Challenged His Capacity to Make a Will Shortly Before 2014 Death

After a two-year legal battle, the Oberlandesgericht in Munich has upheld the dismissal of Uta Werner’s challenge to the will made by Cornelius Gurlitt in 2014 that designated the Kunstmuseum Bern as his heir, including the bequest of his controversial painting collection.  Less than six months after it was revealed in November 2013 that the Bavarian authorities had seized 1,280 objects from his Schwabing home in Munich, Gurlitt wrote a will that designated that his entire collection would go to the Swiss museum.  Barring some extraordinary appeal, the bequest will now be final and the collection will go to Switzerland.  While lifting considerable uncertainty about the fate of the collection as a whole, this development does not address the lack of clarity about the process by which the objects that are suspected of having been looted by the Nazis will be examined or returned.

Read More

Topics: Bayern, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, Nazi-looted art in Munich, SZ, Uta Werner, Nazi-looted art, Oberlandesgericht, Munich, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Catrin Lorch, Free State of Bavaria, Kunstmuseum Bern, Washington Principles, Jörg Häntzschel, Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)

Looted Art Legislation—HEAR Act and Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act Set to Become Law

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 12, 2016 at 2:40 PM

Congress has passed and President Obama is expected to sign two bills related to looted art and the availability of U.S. courts to hear disputes over them.  The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016 and the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act (FCEJCA, for lack of a handy acronym) were both passed without objection both the House of Representatives on December 10, 2016, and are expected to be signed by President Obama shortly.  The HEAR Act is a major shift in the law of Nazi-looted art claims specifically, while the FCEJCA is controversial but unlikely to have a broad impact one way or another.  It is perhaps most remarkable that in an era of unique partisanship and political polarization, members of Congress from both parties and the President agreed on anything, let alone unanimously (sponsors include such unusual allies as Ted Cruz, Richard Blumenthal, John Cornyn, and Charles Schumer).

Read More

Topics: Legislation, Guelph Treasure, Alfred Flechtheim, Russia, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2459, FSIA, expropriation exception”, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, World War II, State Hermitage Museum, Charles Schumer, Immunity from Seizure Act, Chabad, 28 U.S.C. § 1605, John Cornyn, Welfenschatz, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, Richard Blumenthal, Ted Cruz, Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional, Mikhail Piotrovsky, Politico, Anita Difanis

Heirs of Nazi-Persecuted Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim Sue Bavarian Museums

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 6, 2016 at 11:20 AM

Paintings by Beckmann, Gris and Klee Valued at Nearly $20 Million That Once Belonged to Flechtheim Are at Issue in New York Lawsuit

Sullivan & Worcester LLP has filed suit against Bavaria and its state museums in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on behalf of our clients Dr. Michael Hulton and Mrs. Penny Hulton, heirs to the renowned and persecuted Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim.  The Hultons have asked the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to restitute several paintings by Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, and Juan Gris that are now in the possession of the German federal state of Bavaria, Adolf Hitler’s and the Nazi party’s homeland, and its Bavarian State Paintings Collections (known in German as the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, or BSGS).  We are aided in this case by our co-counsel Markus Stoetzel and Mel Urbach, Esq.

Read More

Topics: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cornelius Gurlitt, Deutschlandradio. Deutsche Presse Agentur, Monuments Men, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Max Beckmann, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, Paul Klee, FSIA, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, Bavaria, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, World War II, Alfred Flechteim, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Dr. Michael Hulton, Juan Gris, George Grosz

Important Changes to HEAR Act Preserve New York’s Demand and Refusal Rule (For Now)

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 26, 2016 at 3:35 PM

The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016 has been pending for several monthsnow, and was recently recommended favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. The bill would create a uniform six-year statute of limitations for Nazi-looted art claims, harmonizing an otherwise patchwork state by state system.  While that consistency was laudable, our concern was that the bill as proposed would overrule New York’s important demand and refusal approach to statutes of limitations, with the effect that many otherwise timely claims in New York might become barred.  The bill’s text has been quietly amended to correct that, and in other interesting ways as well.  With the Presidential election just two weeks away, however, it remains anyone’s guess if the bill will become law before the new Congress is seated in January.

Read More

Topics: Legislation, Nazi-looted art, Restitution, Statute of Limitations, World War II, HEAR Act, demand and refusal

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.

Read More

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

Restitution Legislation: HEAR Act and Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act Move Forward

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 18, 2016 at 5:13 PM

 

Two restitution related bills have advanced past the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate: the Holocaust Expropriated Art Act (S.B. 2763, the HEAR Act), and the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act, S.B. 3155.  Their advancement for consideration by the full Senate is interesting since in many ways they are at cross purposes with each other.  The analytical coverage of each has also been somewhat frustrating insofar as much of the reasons expounded by their proponents do not really describe what the bills would do.  The HEAR Act would not restitute any Nazi looted art, rather, it would harmonize as federal law the statute of limitations on such claims.  The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act would not “reward” Russia or other foreign museums with art claimed by others, it would eliminate a jurisdictional scenario that has only happened once.  The fact is that both bills are of dubious merit because they are of limited effect, and may cause more harm than good.

Read More

Topics: Legislation, Nazi-looted art, FSIA, Restitution, World War II, IFSA, HEAR Act, Ted Cruz, S.B. 2763, S.B. 3155, Foreign Cultural Exchange, Jurisdictional Clarification Act

Norton Simon Museum Prevails Against Von Saher Claim to Cranachs Looted by the Nazis

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 16, 2016 at 3:36 PM

Just as it appeared that the first trial in years would begin next month on a claim of Nazi-looted art, the much publicized Von Saher case has come to an end with a judgment that entered yesterday.  The U.S. District Court awarded the Norton Simon Museum summary judgment on the claims to ownership of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder, ending pending further appeal a nearly decade-old litigation.  Over the years, the Von Saher case has made new law about statutes of limitations, constitutional law, and the scope of U.S. foreign policy as it impacts the courts.  Like the Cassirer case last year, it is a bitter blow for the claimants who labored for years to recover the paintings and for whom it appeared their day in court had arrived.  This is all the more so because there was no dispute in the briefing that the paintings had been expropriated by Hermann Göring’s rapacious henchman.    

Read More

Topics: Norton Simon Museum, Alois Miedl, Jacques Goudstikker, Nazi-looted art, Hermann Goering, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, Marei Von Saher, World War II

More of the Same—Latest Limbach Commission “Reform” is Anything But

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 11, 2016 at 11:33 AM

Supposed Changes to German Advisory Commission on Nazi Looted Art Short on Specifics

There have been a number of articles this week indicating that Germany intends to reform the “Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property” (Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogener Kulturgüter, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz) that is charged with making recommendations to German museums on claims for art allegedly looted or bought under duress during the Nazi era.  Yet the most astonishing part of the news is that it is no news at all.  It is merely a repetition—if that—of what was promised in March.  Only now it is not even a promise, it is an indication that proposals may be forthcoming at some indefinite point in the future.  It is further evidence that the entire endeavor does not deserve to be taken seriously.  At best, the “reforms” would address some of the appalling discriminatory comments made earlier this year.  But nothing proposed so far would compel a museum to submit to the commission, about which Bavaria in particular—the federal state that isin the midst of its own scandal for returning art to actual Nazis while giving heirs the runaround—notoriously refuses even to appear before the commission

Read More

Topics: Alfred Flechtheim, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Advisory Commission, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, Bavaria, World War II, Limbach Commission

About the Blog


The Art Law Report provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities.

Meet the Editor

Learn more about our Art & Museum Law practice

Subscribe to Blog

Posts by Topic

see all