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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Nazi-looted Art - Modern Claims

I promised some info on modern litigation concerning Nazi-looted art.  Here is a link to a chart, which shows how the tide in Nazi-looted art claims has completely shifted since a major win for claimants in the United States Supreme Court in 2004.  Some profs may remember Republic of Austria v. Altmann, 541 U.S. 677 (2004), a Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act case in which a Holocaust survivor in her eighties prevailed (ultimately in arbitration in Vienna) against the claim of a foreign government, supported by the Bush administration, that federal courts lack jurisdiction over a foreign sovereign that possesses Nazi-looted art.  

Adele Bloch Bauer I
Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

The chart summarizes how since then in every other Nazi-looted art case, except the one with the most egregious facts, the courts have rejected the restitution claims, typically on procedural grounds such as a federal construction of a state statute of limitations or on the affirmative defense of laches.  These cases appear to reflect either a categorical refusal to permit fact finding or – worse – a de facto presumption that survivor’s and heirs’ claims to Nazi-looted art are  invalid.

So eager have some museums and private collectors in this country been to remove the dark cloud of the Nazi past from their title to disputed artworks that many of them have gone to court as plaintiffs seeking swift dismissal without addressing the merits of rightful ownership.  For example, in Toledo Museum of Art v. Ullin, 477 F. Supp. 2d 802 (N.D. Ohio 2006), a district judge actually held that the statute of limitations ran in 1943, before the Allies had landed on the beaches of Normandy, let alone defeated the Wehrmacht and liberated survivors in work camps and mass killing centers.

It may be time to update the chart again soon.  Here is some info on the face that launched a thousand claims, Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele, which is set for trial July 26 in the Southern District of New York and reportedly is close to settlement.


Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally, 1912

Posted by Jen Kreder on July 8, 2010 at 10:36 AM in Property | Permalink


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