This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the Washington Conference on Nazi-Era Assets and the corollary Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art that have driven much of the conversation since then. Apollo magazine published my thoughts on the impact of the Washington Principles, which I reproduce below (British spelling, thank you), as well as a thoughtful piece by Martin P. Levy (a member of the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel, one of the commissions created in response to the Washington Principles).
Topics: Nazi-looted art, SPK, Advisory Commission, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Washington Principles, HEAR Act, UK Spoliation Advisory Panel, Apollo Magazine, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, Washington Conference on Nazi-Era Assets, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, National Gallery in London, Claims Conference, JUST Act
The National Gallery London hosted on September 12, 2017 the much-anticipated conference “70 Years and Counting: the Final Opportunity?” organized by the United Kingdom Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCCS), and the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE). Delegates from numerous countries gathered to consider the state of progress on the efforts to identify and return works of art lost during the Nazi era. While the event had a truly international flair, the discussion centered primarily on the five countries that have created some sort of process to consider assertions of looted art in response to the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art: England, France, Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Topics: Victoria and Albert Museum, Kunstrückgabebeirat, Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, National Gallery London, Constantine Cannon LLP, Commission for Looted Art in Europe, Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, Christie's, Advisory Commission, Johannes Nathan, Monica Dugot, Imke Gielen, Sotheby's, Neumeister Auction House, Richard Aronowitz-Mercer, Tony Baumgartner, Clyde & Co., John Glen, UK Spoliation Advisory Panel, The Orpheus Clock, Art Restitution Advisory Board, Margreet Soeting, H. Blairman & Sons Ltd., Katrin Stoll, Department for Digital Culture Media & Sport, DCCS, CLAE, 70 Years and Counting: the Final Opportunity?, Gabriele Finaldi, David Lewis, Minister for the Arts Heritage and Tourism, Sir Paul Jenkins, Dr. Antonia Boström, von Trott zu Solz Lammek, Simon Goodman, Sir Donnell Deeny, Jan Bank, Restitutions Committee of the Netherlands, Dr. Reinhard Binder-Krieglstein, Professor Dr. Reinhard Rürup, Jean-Pierre Bady, Commission pour l’indemnisation des victimes, CVIS, Dr. Christian Fuhrmeister, British Library, Nathan Fine Art, Stedelijk Museum, Pierre Valentine, Martin Levy
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
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
We filed yesterday the opposition to the motion to dismiss my clients’ claims over the 1935 forced sale of the Guelph Treasure, or Welfenschatz. The motion was filed two months ago by defendants Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. As we noted when Germany first moved to dismiss the complaint last fall, Germany’s arguments were revisionist and alarming in a number of troubling ways, most seriously because they tried to excuse persecution of Jews before an arbitrary date as an internal affair not subject to U.S. court jurisdiction, and because it repudiated Germany’s international commitments under the Washington Principles to address restitution claims on the merits. The abject failure of the Advisory Commission, which Germany tries to portray here as some sort of arbitration (which it is not) is also at the fore.
Last week Germany’s Minister of Culture Monika Grütters made the astonishing statement that the Advisory Commission that issues recommendations for questions of allegedly Nazi-looted art in German museums would not be revised to include a member of the Jewish community because that Jewish member “would be the only voice who would be prejudiced.” The statement was not idle gossip, it was to the New York Times, which was writing a feature piece about her. This was a shockingly tone-deaf statement for a German cabinet member to make. Even in a vacuum, it is logically indefensible; why would a Jewish member be more biased than a German member (about which she had no objection). And, of course, it is not a vacuum—we are talking about Germany.
Two days after suspending their participation in the Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property, often called the "Limbach Commission" after its presiding member Jutta Limbach (the Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenen Kulturguts, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz), the heirs of Alfred Flechtheim withdrew from the proceedings entirely. The dispute concerns Violon et encrier (Violin and Inkwell) (1913) by Juan Gris in the Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Art Collections Foundation of North Rhine-Westphalia) in Düsseldorf.
Sophisticated Analysis of Adolph von Menzel Drawing Distinguishes Itself from Recent Revisionism Elsewhere
As the original term of the Gurlitt Task Force (Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund) winds down, the panel has issued a report on a work that it deems appropriate for restitution: Interior of a Gothic Church (Inneres einer gottischen Kirche) by Adolph von Menzel (pencil drawing, signed/dated 1874). The drawing has been called Church in Hofgastein in some English language articles.
Topics: Interior of a Gothic Church, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, Nazi Germany, Inneres einer gottischen Kirche, Dresden, Gurlitt Task Force, Adolph von Menzel, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt Collection, Ernst Julius Wolffson, Washington Principles on Nazi-Looted Art, Advisory Commission, Munich, Albert Martin Wolffson, Salzburg, Restitution, Catrin Lorch, Bavaria, World War II, Switzerland, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Austria, Kunstmuseum Bern, Federal Republic of Germany, Raubkunst, Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund, Elsa Helene Cohen, Limbach Commission, Jörg Häntzschel
We reported last week on the outrage over the decision by Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) to argue in their motion to dismiss my clients’ claims to the Welfenschatz that a commercial interaction between German Jews and a cabal instigated by Hermann Goering in 1935 “predated the Holocaust by several years.” As we noted last week, the suggestion that the Holocaust was a distant possibility in 1935 was an indefensible statement, factually, historically, and ethically. The initial reaction was swift and severe. As Germany gets ready to host the First Conference of the German Centre for Cultural Property Losses next week, its policies are hurtling in the wrong direction.
Topics: Jewish Week Mel Urbach, Hermann Goering First Conference of the German Cen, Guelph Treasure, Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums, Henning Kahmann, Atlanta, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Varda Neumann Federal Administrative Court, Yale University, Marion Kaplan, New York University, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Hitler, Kristallnacht Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Markus Stoetzel, Emory University, Behrens, Holocaust, Bloodlands, SPK, Advisory Commission, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Restitution, Los Angeles, World War II, Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil, Washington, Raubkunst, Timothy Snyder, Welfenschatz
It has been almost two weeks since I filed my clients’ claims for restitution of the Guelph Treasure (Welfenschatz).
Topics: Maria Altmann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, National Socialists, Third Reich, artdaily.org, Reuters, United States Supreme Court, Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Haaretz, Deutschlandradio. Deutsche Presse Agentur, Robin Young, the Guardian, The Art Newspaper, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, The Wall Street Journal, Deutsche Welle, Santa Fe, KRQE News 13, the Observer, Markus Stoetzel, Die Erle, Mel Urbach, Nazis, Advisory Commission, 3SAT, ZDF, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Washington DC, Hermann Goering, Private Wealth, Restitution, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Here & Now, Gerald Stiebel, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, flight tax, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Adolf Hitler, United States District Court, The New York Times, Federal Republic of Germany, BBC News Europe, Alan Phillip, Welfenschatz, NPR, PrivateArtInvestor, ArtNet news