Debate has peaked in the last year or so about the treatment and possible restitution of so-called colonial artifacts in Western (i.e., European and North American) museums. The conversation is important for many reasons, but one interesting facet is the way in which the discussion moved from a peripheral topic to one consuming high-level government attention in a very short amount of time. In the process, institutions that have been devoted for well over a century to artistic, archeologic, and ethnographic displays have found themselves in a very public conversation about the future and even the validity of their mission. This discourse culminated last fall in a report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron, authored by Bénédicte Savoy of France and Felwine Sarr of Senegal, recommending (among other things, as discussed below), that objects sent to France should be returned if the country of origin requests it. Germany has now joined the conversation with the announcement of a collective declaration addressed to the collection of German federal and state museums.
Topics: Berlin, ICOM, Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, Germany, Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, SPK, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, International Council of Museums, 1970 UNESCO Convention, Monika Grütters, Art Law Report, Capital Requirements Regulation, Bénédicte Savoy, Felwine Sarr, Emmanuel Macron, Humboldt Forum, Unter den Linden, Stadtschloss, Frederick the Great, East Germany, Volkskammer, Collective Declaration, Dahlem, Nama, Namibia, Federal Ministry of Culture, Media, and Sport, Länder, German South West Africa, Deutsches Zentrum Kulturverluste, Ethnological Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Herero
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.
Topics: Guelph Treasure, laches, Cornelius Gurlitt, Germany, Nazi-looted art, res judicata, Die Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste, Holocaust, Magdeburg, Fritz Grünbaum, NS Raubkunst, Bavaria, Egon Schiele, Mathilde Lukacs, Task Force, New York Times, National Gallery, A Tragic Fate, German Lost Art Foundation, Kieslinger, Woman in a Black Pinafore, Woman Hiding her Face, Charles E. Ramos, Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso)
(WASHINGTON-July 10, 2018) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has affirmed the right of the heirs to the so-called Guelph Treasure (known in German as the Welfenschatz) to seek restitution in U.S. courts for the value of the treasured art collection. The appellate court rejected Defendants’ arguments that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction, or that Germany’s treatment of its Jews in the 1930s should be immune from judicial scrutiny. While the Federal Republic of Germany itself was dismissed as a defendant, the actual possessor and key party in interest (the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, or SPK) must now prove that a 1935 transfer of the collection by a consortium of Jewish art dealers to Hermann Goering’s minions was a legitimate transaction if they are to retain the collection.
Topics: Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Z.M. Hackenbroch, Prussia, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, SPK, Hermann Goering, FSIA, NS Raubkunst, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, J.S. Goldschmidt, Adolf Hitler, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, D.C. Circuit, Consortium, Genocide Convention, Reichstag, flight taxes, Baltimore Sun, Luftwaffe
As Germany puts on the much-anticipated exhibition in Bonn of Cornelius Gurlitt’s disputed collection, a strange story has developed not too far away in Düsseldorf. The Stadtmuseum, which is administered by the city itself, had organized—but now cancelled—“Max Stern: from Düsseldorf to Montreal.” The exhibition was scheduled to open in February in Düsseldorf, before traveling to the Haifa art museum in September of 2018 and to the McCord Museum in Montreal in 2019. The city’s acknowledgement that the decision was based on a claim for restitution from the Max Stern Estate is a disturbing development that provides no sound reason to cancel a show about an important dealer who, it is undisputed, was a seminal figure of Nazi persecution.
Topics: Nuremberg laws, Cologne, Cornelius Gurlitt, Germany, The Art Newspaper, Köln, Nazi-looted art, Düsseldorf, The New York Times, A Tragic Fate, Max Stern from Düsseldorf to Montreal, McCord Museum, Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, Dr. and Mrs. Max Stern Foundation, Max Stern Restitution Project, Girl from the Sabine Mountains, Max Stern, Haifa, Francis Xavier Winterhalter, Mädchen aus den Sabiner Bergen, The Artist’s Children, Wilhelm von Schadow, Düsseldorf Kunstpalast, Andreas Achenbach, Sicilian Landscape, Norwegian Landscape, Galerie Max Stern, Mayor Thomas Geisel
News Accompanied by Deafening Silence About Ongoing Restitution Policy Failures
The German government announced recently that it had returned an additional work of art found in the Salzburg home of Cornelius Gurlitt in connection with the 2013 revelation of Gurlitt’s trove of art originally in the possession of his late father Hildebrand. La Seine, vue du Pont-Neuf, au fond le Louvre by Camille Pissarro (1902) has been returned to the heirs of Max Heilbronn, from whom it was taken in 1942 in France. The accompanying announcement was of a piece with the ongoing fiasco of the Gurlitt affair: a press release touting the personal involvement of Germany’s Minister of Culture Monika Grütters, a self-serving but vague statement about commitments to restitution, and absolutely no explanation or update about what is happening to the hundreds of additional paintings and objects under investigation. The press release was also sure to mention an upcoming exhibition of Gurlitt collection works later this year. In sum, the announcement confirms precisely the opposite of its intended effect.
Topics: Guelph Treasure, Cornelius Gurlitt, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Washington Conference Principles, Hildebrand Gurlit, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Kunstmuseum Bern, Monika Grütters, Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund, Welfenschatz, Minister of Culture, Gurlitt Taskforce
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.
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
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.
Topics: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Germany, Seated Woman wiht Bent Left Leg (Torso), Bakalar v. Vavra, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Fritz Grünbaum, Egon Schiele, David Bakalar, HEAR Act, Richard Nagy, Laurel Zuckerman, Alice Leffmann
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.
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
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
Immediately Squanders Market Opportunities Created by Brexit
On a historic day in the European Union, Germany quietly enacted the revised Cultural Property Protection Law (Kulturgutschutzgesetz) that has sparked much controversy in recent months. On the very day that the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union raises myriad questions about the effect on London in particular as a world center of the art market (see here for the terrific first take by our friends at Boodle Hatfield in London), Germany ironically has passed a law that will prevent it from stepping into any of the likely market void left by Britain's EU exit. While Germany is not alone in cultural property protection laws of this sort, it is a silly and unnecessary regulation that will undercut the German art market—as vocally proclaimed by German art market players themselves. In the art world, it was a regressive day on the eastern side of the Atlantic and a huge opportunity lost for Germany.