Art Law Report

Nicholas O'Donnell

Nick’s practice focuses primarily on complex civil litigation. He represents manufacturers, individuals, investment advisers, banks, and others around the world in contract, securities, consumer protection, tort and domestic relations cases, with particular experience in the German-speaking world. He is also the editor of the Art Law Report, a blog that provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities, one of his areas of expertise. Nick is a member of the Art Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association. Additionally, Nick has authored and contributed to several books on art law: — A Tragic Fate—Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, (Ankerwyke/ABA Publishing, 2017) — “Public Trust or Private Business? Deaccessioning Law and Ethics in the United States,” in Éthique et Patrimoine Culturel - Regard Croisés, G. Goffaux, ed., (L’Harmattan, 2016) — “Vergangenheit als Zukunft? Restitutionsstreitigkeiten in den Vereinigten Staaen,” in Ersessene Kunst—Der Fall Gurlitt, J. Heil and A. Weber, eds., (Metropol, 2015) — “Nazi-Looted Art—Risks and Best Practices for Museums,” in The Legal Guide for Museum Professionals, Julia Courtney, ed., (2015, Rowman & Littlefield)

Recent Posts

Heirs of Holocaust Victim Fritz Grünbaum Win Restitution of Nazi-Looted Schiele Drawings

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 11, 2019 at 5:05 PM

The Appellate Division First Department in New York has affirmed the trial court’s ruling in Reif v. Nagy that the heirs of Viennese actor and Holocaust victim Franz Friedrich (Fritz) Grünbaum are entitled to the return of two Egon Schiele drawings, Woman Hiding her Face (1912) and Woman in a Black Pinafore (1911).  The ruling is a momentous victory for the Grünbaum heirs, and features several recurring characters in many Nazi-looted restitution disputes.  We were doubly gratified to see the First Department’s citation to our own case, Philipp v. F.R.G., 894 F.3d 406 (D.C. Cir. 2018) for the proposition that sales under duress are void and violate international law consistent with the policies of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016.  It is a landmark ruling and a testament to the perseverance of the Grünbaum heirs and their legal team.

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, Cornelius Gurlitt, Galerie St. Etienne, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Galerie Gutekunst, Holocaust, Fritz Grünbaum, NS Raubkunst, Egon Schiele, Mathilde Lukacs, Franz Kieslinger, Anschluss, Welfenschatz, HEAR Act, Ankerwycke, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, Woman in a Black Pinafore, Woman Hiding her Face, Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso), Reif v. Nagy, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Eberhard Kornfeld, Philipp v. F.R.G., New York Law Journal, Gutekunst & Klipstein, Jonathan Petropoulos

Guelph Treasure Claims to Go Forward

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 18, 2019 at 4:47 PM

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today dismissed the petition to rehear en banc last year’s landmark ruling that the heirs of the art dealers who sold the Guelph Treasure (or Welfenschatz) may pursue their claims in U.S. federal court.  Defendants the Federal Republic of Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (the SPK, or Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in English) had argued that claims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s expropriation exception such as these are not violations of international law and also require a claimant to exhaust remedies abroad, a position rejected by prior decisions of the D.C. Circuit and by today’s ruling as well.  

Today’s decision confirms the first-of-its kind holding last year that a German state museum must face claims based on allegations of Nazi-looted art, a direct result of Germany’s failures through its so-called Advisory (often called Limbach) Commission to address seriously and comprehensively the state of Nazi-looted art in its national collections.  In the five years since denying the Guelph Treasure claimants any meaningful attention, Germany has fumbled through the Gurlitt fiasco and attempted other various distractions like its new fitful attention to colonial art (with no real progress there either). Germany has repeatedly disparaged my clients by suggesting that the matter was already "decided on the merits" before Germany's Advisory Commission.  This is false.  The Advisory Commission renders non-binding recommendations to state museums and has been roundly criticized for its opinions in 2014 and 2015 in particular, when my clients were denied justice.  There is no small irony in having to explain this in the context of Germany's request for a do-over after last year's ruling. 

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Topics: Third Reich, Guelph Treasure, Feist, Prussia, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, SPK, Advisory Commission, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, expropriation exception”, Nazi persecution, Boy Leading a Horse, NS Raubkunst, J.S. Goldschmidt, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, forced sale, Zacharias Hackenbroch, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, HEAR Act, Paul Körner, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum

Radio Interview Examines Recent Nazi-Looted Art Court Decisions

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 28, 2019 at 11:38 AM

I was pleased for the opportunity to chat with Larry Perel of KCRW in Santa Barbara about the significance of the recent ruling that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid is the owner of Rue St. Honoré, effet de pluie by Camille Pissarro—notwithstanding that there was no dispute that it had been looted from the Cassirer by the Nazis.  You can listen to the full audio of the radio broadcast here.  I discussed the Cassirer case, the more recent decision by the United States Supreme Court not to hear further appeal of Marei von Saher’s lawsuit against the Norton Simon Museum, and other current issues concerning the restitution of Nazi-confiscated art claims. You can read more background on these cases here at the Art Law Report, or in A Tragic Fate—Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art.

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Topics: Nazi-looted art, Marei Von Saher, Camille Pissarro, Art Law Report, A Tragic Fate, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Rue St. Honoré effet de pluie, Nazi-confiscated art, Larry Perel, KCRW, Santa Barbara, Madrid

Knoedler Gallery Owners May be Liable for Forgery Scandal, Jury Will Decide

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 14, 2019 at 9:11 AM

The sprawling saga of the M. Knoedler & Co. Gallery forgery scandal is approaching a full decade since the storied gallery closed abruptly in 2011 (fuller background further below). The last pending civil suit related to the case is now headed for trial in July after the U.S. District Court denied a motion for summary judgment by the gallery’s shareholders that argued that they could not be responsible for the company’s liability. Judge Paul G. Gardephe of the Southern District of New York ruled that there were factual disputes on whether those shareholders indeed could be responsible for alter ego liability that can only be resolved at a trial. The court did award Defendant Michael Hammer summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ fraud, fraudulent concealment, aiding and abetting fraud, aiding and abetting fraudulent concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment, RICO, and RICO conspiracy claims.

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Topics: Ann Freedman, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Southern District of New York, RICO, Glafira Rosales, M. Knoedler & Co., Abstract Expressionist, Gardephe, piercing the corporate veil, Monsanto, Roundup, Michael Hammer, 8-31, Knoedler LLC, alter ego

Thyssen-Bornemisza Prevails Over Cassirer Heirs' Claim to Pissarro Taken by Nazis Despite Acts “Inconsistent with the Washington Principles”

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 2, 2019 at 9:20 AM

One of the longest-running court cases in the United States about art looted by the Nazis has been decided in favor of the current possessor, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, an instrumentality of the Kingdom of Spain.  The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled on April 30, 2019 against the heirs of Lilly Cassirer, a German Jew whom the Nazis targeted in 1939 for a forced sale of Rue Saint–Honoré, après-midi, effect de pluie (1892).  The ruling is the second time that the museum has prevailed in the District Court as the owner of the painting under Spanish law, now on the grounds the museum did not know of the painting’s looting history when it acquired the work and that it held the work publicly for long enough to become its owner even though it had been stolen.  The ruling, while favorable to the museum in this case, confirms important principles about the inability of successive possessors to acquire good title to artworks stolen by the Nazis, and the importance of diligence and pursuing questions raised by red flags in the chain of title.  Notable as well was the Court’s pointed criticism of Spain for failing to adhere to the spirit of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, and Spain’s failure to “comply with its moral commitments.”

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Topics: Walter Feilchenfeldt, Third Reich, Terezin Declaration, Gestapo, Lilly Cassirer, Claude Cassirer, Jacques Goudstikker, Nazi-looted art, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Washington Principles, Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen- Bornemisza, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, flight taxes, Rue Saint–Honoré, Julius Cassirer, Paul Durand-Ruel, Ludwigstrasse, Dr. Cassirer and Co. Kabelwerke, Jakob Scheidwimmer, Sydney Schoenberg, Hahn Gallery, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Military Government Law No. 59, Reich Chamber of the Visual Arts, Ari Walter Kampf, Eugen Kampf, Knoedler & Co. Gallery, encubridor

Building a Responsible Art Market in New York May 23, 2019

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 29, 2019 at 5:48 PM

As promised, here are the details and registration information for the Responsible Art Market initiative's inaugural US event on May 23, 2019 at Columbia University.  The preliminary program is below (some sponsors still pending), sign up today today to attend (free)! 

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Topics: Jane Levine, Switzerland, Appraisers Association of America, Suzanne Gyorgy, Sotheby's, Megan Noh, ARTnews, Art Law Centre, University of Geneva, Responsible Art Market initiative, Justine Ferland, CitiBank, PAIAM, Sarah Douglas, Birgit Kurtz, Gibbons P.C., Rebecca Fine, Athena Art Finance Corp., Pryor Cashman, Linda Selvin, Jennifer Mass, Scientific Analysis of Fine Art, LLC

The Responsible Art Market Initiative is Coming to New York on May 23, 2019

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 18, 2019 at 1:00 PM

After another well-attended and well-received event in Geneva in January, the Responsible Art Market Initiative is coming to New York!  In coordination with the Professional Advisors to the International Art Market (PAIAM), we will be holding an afternoon seminar at Columbia University on May 23, 2019.  The program and registration will be available shortly, but panels moderated by RAM Advisory Board members Justine Ferland (University of Geneva) and I will boast a stellar lineup of experts that will address questions concerning compliance and legislative developments affecting the art market, and best practices in art transaction risk management.

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Topics: Columbia University, University of Geneva, Responsible Art Market, Justine Ferland, PAIAM

Germany and its Federal States Announce Collective Declaration with Respect to Colonial Artifacts and Human Remains

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 22, 2019 at 11:22 AM

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.  

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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

Poland Renews Efforts to Extradite Art Dealer Alexander Khochinsky, Whose 2018 Lawsuit Seeks Damages for Poland’s Previous Retaliation for his WW II Restitution Claims

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on February 26, 2019 at 12:23 PM

Alexander Khochinsky, the son of a Polish Jew who fled her home just steps ahead of the German invasion in 1941, was detained at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport yesterday.  The current detention parallels Poland’s previous failed attempts to extradite Khochinsky from the United States in 2015, a request that was dismissed and which led to his pending lawsuit for that retaliatory extradition attempt.  Khochinsky, an art dealer, reached out to Poland about a painting, Girl with Dove, that he had inherited from his parents that looked similar to one that Poland was seeking, and asked to open a dialogue about what had happened to his mother’s home.  In response, Poland charged him with a crime and asked the United States to extradite him for prosecution.  The U.S. District Court in Manhattan dismissed the request for extradition in 2015, but by then Khochinsky had suffered months of detention and the destruction of his business.  Khochinsky—an American citizen—was detained just before boarding his flight to New York on Monday and informed that there was an Interpol or European request for his extradition made by Poland.

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Topics: Alexander Khochinsky, Red Army, "Girl with Dove", Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Poland, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Przemysl, Leningrad, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Hague Convention on the Service Abroad, Jean-Jacques Neuer, Polish Central Authority, USSR

Event: A Responsible Art Market in Practice, February 1, 2019 in Geneva

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on January 9, 2019 at 11:32 AM

Readers of the Art Law Report know that for several years running now, I have enjoyed events in Geneva organized by the Art Law Foundation and the Responsible Art Market Initiative in January/February.  I am happy to report that this year is no exception.  RAM is presenting its latest event “A Responsible Art Market in Practice,” to be held on Friday February 1, 2019 at the Palexpo in the venue of the artgenève fair.  After joining the RAM Taskforce and contributing to its Toolkit and country guide for the US, I am pleased to be presenting one of the case studies, in between a roster of distinguished speakers and experts.  I hope to see you there! 

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Topics: Art Law Foundation, The Art Newspaper, Geneva, artgenève, Sandrine Giroud, Lalive, Irina Tarsis, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Suzanne Gyorgy, Georgina Adam, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Art Law Centre, Mathilde Heaton, Jean-Bernard Schmid, Responsible Art Market initiative, Phillips, Financial Times, Palexpo, Justine Ferland, Carine Decroi, Artcurial, Philippe Davet, CitiBank, Aude Lemogne, Ochsner & associés, Roland Foord, Stephenson Harwood, Association Marché d’Art Suisse, Blondeau & Cie, Andreas Ritter

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About the Blog


The Art Law Report provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities. It is authored by Nicholas M. O'Donnell, partner in our Art & Museum Law Practice.

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.

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