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: 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
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.
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