Art Law Report

What About Margarethe Mauthner? Van Gogh Once Owned by Elizabeth Taylor Heads to Auction Again with Scant Mention of its Persecuted Former Owner

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 26, 2018 at 9:19 AM

Since the passage in 2016 of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, many commenters (here included) have grappled with what the implications of the law will be on the scope and frequency of future claims.  Even as litigants are faced with policy arguments about whether individual claims belong in U.S. courts—arguments that the HEAR Act should have put to rest—it is occasionally worthwhile to consider how prior cases would have been affected.  Such analysis can draw into relief why the law was such a significant step forward.  This week, news that a painting by Vincent Van Gogh once owned by Elizabeth Taylor will go to auction again provides one such example.  A beautiful painting in the collection of the biggest movie star in the world makes for a great sales pitch, but missing in the coverage is any mention of Margarethe Mauthner, a German Jew who owned the painting before fleeing the Nazi regime.  The exact circumstances under which she lost possession of the painting are unclear, but those circumstances might have had the chance to be determined had the HEAR Act been passed earlier.  The importance of that opportunity is worth considering as the law is assessed going forward. 

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Topics: Margarethe Mauthner, Nazi-looted art, Van Gogh, Christie's, Holocaust Victims Redress Act, Sotheby's, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, HEAR Act, A Tragic Fate, Vue de l'asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy, Alfred Wolf, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Cassirer

Something’s Rotten in Düsseldorf—Max Stern Exhibition Cancelled in Response to Restitution Claim

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on November 28, 2017 at 10:33 AM

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. 

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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

Germany Identifies Painting from Gurlitt Collection as Nazi-Looted, Progress and Credibility Still Uncertain

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 25, 2017 at 3:28 PM

Only Sixth Work Revealed As Looted Since 2013

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Topics: Cornelius Gurlitt, Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, Gurlitt Task Force, Nazi-looted art, Munich, Salzburg, NS Raubkunst, Kulturgutschutzgesetz, Kunstmuseum Bern, Monika Grütters, Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund, German Center for Cultural Property Losses, Portrait of a Seated Young Woman, Porträt einer sitzenden jungen Frau, Thomas Couture, Georges Mandel, Rose Valland

“Nazi-Looted Art: From Fair and Just Solutions to Litigation” in London September 13, 2017

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 8, 2017 at 11:40 AM

I am pleased to announce that I will be speaking about my book A Tragic Fate: Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (now available in both hardcover and Kindle edition) and related topics on September 13, 2017 at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Art and Law.  Entitled “Nazi-Looted Art: From Fair and Just Solutions to Litigation,” I will give an overview of the topic of the intersection between legal and ethical challenges that have surrounded efforts to restitute art looted by the Nazis and their allies.  A panel discussion will follow with experts Tony Baumgartner of Clyde & Co. (and a member of the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel), Charlotte Woodhead (Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick and an instructor at the Institute of Art and Law) and Gregor Kleinknecht of Hunter Solicitors.  There will be a reception and an opportunity to buy and have copies of the book signed. 

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Topics: Nazi-looted art, Events, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Tony Baumgartner, Clyde & Co., Institute of Art and Law, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London, From Fair and Just Solutions to Litigation, Charlotte Woodhead, Gregor Kleinknecht, Hunter Solicitors

Praise from Kirkus Reviews for "A Tragic Fate"

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 21, 2017 at 12:18 PM

The following is from the Kirkus Reviews starred review of A Tragic Fate--Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (emphasis added)

A comprehensive review of United States court cases involving art that was plundered by Nazis.

Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime was always keenly attuned to the power of cultural symbolism and eager to find new ways to disenfranchise Jewish people. These two preoccupations converged in their looting of privately owned art between 1933 and 1945. Some treasures were brazenly confiscated, while others were purchased at steep, coerced discounts. In the last few decades, there’s been growing interest in this large-scale larceny, and yet much of the stolen art will likely never be returned to its original owners. Debut author O’Donnell, an attorney, calls this the “central paradox posed by disputes in the last twenty years.” In this book, he diligently catalogs the many moral and judicial reasons for this absurdity, as well as the evolution of laws regarding claims. His study specifically focuses on cases that resulted in litigation in America, providing an exhaustive account of each and arguing that such litigation can be an effective legal strategy, despite complaints to the contrary. O’Donnell also includes discussions of landmark moments in art-restitution law, such as the London Declaration in 1943, the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998, and the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The United States emerges in O’Donnell’s account as an early, forceful leader in international art restitution, despite the fact that some of its own laws, and even the Fifth Amendment, can complicate victims’ options. His mastery of the relevant law is nothing short of stunning, and his meticulous parsing of legal detail leaves no stones unturned.

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Topics: Nazi-looted art, Books, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Kirkus Reviews

New Book by Nicholas M. O'Donnell: "A Tragic Fate--Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi Looted Art"

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 19, 2017 at 11:46 AM

New book explores the historical, ethical, and legal consequences of stolen art

I am pleased to announce that my book A Tragic Fate—Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (Ankerwycke/ABA Publishing ) is available for purchase and delivery.  I am proud to have composed the first comprehensive overview of looted art disputes in the United States, grounded in the historical and ethical perspectives that have shaped the debate over time.  This has been a fascinating project that am very excited to share.  As I hope readers of the blog will agree, my effort is always to provide a resource that those of general interest will find engaging but not hypertechincal, and which practioners will find useful as a resource. 

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Topics: Catherine Hickley, Nazi-looted art, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Books, Georgina Adam, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Art Law Report, ABA Publishing, Ankerwycke, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art

Pissarro from Cornelius Gurlitt’s Salzburg Home Returned to Heirs

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 24, 2017 at 11:29 AM

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.

 

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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

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.  

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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.

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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.

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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)

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