Art Law Report

Deletion of Grünbaum Works from Lost Art Database Shows Again How German Government Has Lost Its Way on Nazi-Looted Art

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 27, 2018 at 1:03 PM

The New York Times reported yesterday that the German Lost Art Foundation had removed several paintings once owned by the Viennese cabaret actor Fritz Grünbaum from the Lost Art database.  While the history of these objects is hotly contested, it was a particularly strange choice given that Grünbaum’s heirs just won a judgment earlier this year that the works by Schiele must be returned to them—by reason of Nazi duress.  For a database that has never been suggested as an adjudication of rights but rather as a repository of notice to the world of possible title issues, it was a perplexing choice.  Against the backdrop of the party that the German government and the foundation are throwing themselves in November for which few outsiders have been able to register, the explanation appears much less benign particularly against the backdrop of the government’s historical revisionism in U.S. federal court litigation.

Read More

Topics: German Lost Art Foundation, Fritz Grünbaum, New York Times, Nazi-looted art, NS Raubkunst, Egon Schiele, Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso), Kieslinger, Mathilde Lukacs, A Tragic Fate, Cornelius Gurlitt, laches, Woman in a Black Pinafore, Woman Hiding her Face, res judicata, Charles E. Ramos, Die Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste, Magdeburg, Bavaria, Germany, Task Force, Guelph Treasure, Holocaust, National Gallery

Sea Change in Nazi-looted Art Claims? The HEAR Act is Put Into Action

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 1, 2017 at 2:43 PM

Two pending cases have invoked the new law

A recent article in the New York Times highlights the change that the recent passage of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016 has had on disputes about the timeliness of claims for allegedly Nazi-looted art.  The odd part, however, is that the case cited by the Times is not one in which the HEAR Act has been invoked or argued, though it could be some day.  As far as we are aware, there has been briefing on the effect of the HEAR Act in two cases, my clients’ claim against the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) and Germany in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, and Laurel Zuckerman’s claim as representative of the Leffmann estate in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.  Only two months after its passage, the law is already changing the terms of debate.

Read More

Topics: HEAR Act, Richard Nagy, Fritz Grünbaum, David Bakalar, Bakalar v. Vavra, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Egon Schiele, Seated Woman wiht Bent Left Leg (Torso), Laurel Zuckerman, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Germany, Alice Leffmann

Stephan Templ, Chronicler of Nazi Looting in Vienna, Set to Begin Jail Term Over Supposed Omission in His Mother’s Holocaust Restitution Claim

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 29, 2015 at 10:03 AM

As I prepare for a trip to Vienna for next week’s International Bar Association Annual Meeting, there is some topical restitution news, but it is hardly good. The imminent incarceration of Stephan Templ, a journalist and historian, for the omission of another relative from his mother’s application for Holocaust compensation, is as bizarre as it is disheartening. One hopes that a pardon, his last available recourse, will soon be forthcoming.

Read More

Topics: Maria Altmann, Reibpartie, Robert Amsterdam, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Der Standard, Stephan Templ, Nazi Looting, Scrubbing Parties, Ringstrasse, Ambassador Manz, Museum of Modern Art, Holocaust, Beethoven Frieze, Lothar Furth, Unser Wien: “Arisierung” auf österreichisch, Heinz Fischer, Restitution, Elisabeth Kretschmer, National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victi, Egon Schiele, World War II, Eva Blimlinger, Portrait of Wally, Austria, The Missing Image, Natural History Museum, Ruth Beckermann, Gustav Klimt, Albertinaplatz, Our Vienna: “Aryanization” Austrian Style, Kurt Hankiewicz, Vienna, Anschluss, Baldur von Schirach, Limbach Commission, International Bar Association, Tina Walzer

Cassirer and the State of Restitution—Takeaways and Next Steps

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 11, 2015 at 7:10 AM

I’ve been talking quite a bit to friends, colleagues and clients about the impact of last week’s decision in the Cassirer v. Thyssen Bornemisza case. The New York Times had a follow up article yesterday which was an interesting treatment of the various themes at work in the case and in restitution cases in the United States generally these days. In fact, I think the effect is mostly limited, except to the extent that the decision assumes and treats as uncontroversial important principles about sales under duress and is a case that resolved title under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). As we predicted, the Times article makes clear that the museum has absolutely no intention of giving the painting back, but did float the idea of some recognition of the historical circumstances, which is progress (certainly compared to other instances in which obvious circumstances of duress are denied).

Read More

Topics: Lilly Cassirer Neubauer, Terezin Declaration, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Rue St. Honoré après-midi êffet de pluie, Jacques Goudstikker, California Code of Civil Procedure § 354.3, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Washington Conference Principles, Bakalar v. Vavra, Fritz Grünbaum, FSIA, adverse possession, expropriation exception”, Restitution, Marei Von Saher, sovereign immunity, Egon Schiele, Jakob Schweidwimmer, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 222, Altmann v. Republic of Austria, Camille Pissarro, foreign affairs doctrine, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Museums, Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen- Bornemisza, 28 U.S.C. § 1605

Rutgers Law Review Article Advocates Replacing Restitution Litigation with Prosecutions

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 22, 2013 at 6:12 AM

The Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion has published a provocative article that advocates a bold new take on Holocaust art restitution litigation. The thesis of the piece is easily gleaned from its title: “Nazi Looted Art and Cocaine: When Museum Directors Take It, Call the Cops.” In a nutshell, the article argues that if artwork were stolen during World War II, it can never be acquired legitimately thereafter, and its possession is by definition a violation of the National Stolen Property Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2314—or even the Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Read More

Topics: 18 U.S.C. § 2314, Girolamo Romano, Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue, Bakalar v. Vavra, Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, Raymond Dowd, Egon Schiele, ARCA Conference, Portrait of Wally, RICO, Washington Principles, Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, National Stolen Property Act, Copyright Litigation Blog

Second Circuit Rules Schiele Drawing Not Stolen by Nazis

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 24, 2012 at 1:15 PM

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the judgment against David Bakalar concerning ownership of the drawing Seated Woman with Bent Left Leg (Torso). It is a notable decision first and foremost because it affirms the District Court ruling on the merits of whether the drawing was stolen by the Nazis from the Austrian-Jewish collector Fritz Grünbaum—finding that it was not stolen. Such a ruling is a rarity among wartime restitution cases, the overwhelming majority of which continue to founder on statutes of limitations and jurisdictional defenses. Ironically, even though the court ruled that the work was not stolen and that the current owner could not prove good title, the current owner still prevailed. The details are the key to understanding this case, best described in the District Court decision that the Appeals Court affirmed.

Read More

Topics: cultural property, laches, Leon Fischer, Milos Vavra, Second Circuit, Galerie St. Etienne, Dead City III, Seated Woman wiht Bent Left Leg (Torso), Galerie Gutekunst, Nazis, Fritz Grünbaum, Restitution, Egon Schiele, World War II, Mathilde Lukacs, David Bakalar, Max Herzl, Franz Kieslinger, Elisabeth Grünbaum, Elise Zozuli

About the Blog


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

The material on this site is for general information only and is not legal advice. No liability is accepted for any loss or damage which may result from reliance on it. Always consult a qualified lawyer about a specific legal problem.

Meet the Editor

Learn more about our Art & Museum Law practice

Subscribe to Blog

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all