Art Law Report

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

Claims by Mendelssohn Bartholdy Heirs over Picasso "Madame Soler" Dismissed, Court Finds No FSIA Jurisdiction After Evidentiary Hearings

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 1, 2014 at 10:49 AM

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has dismissed claims for ownership of Madame Soler by Pablo Picasso, currently at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Just as the relevance of Judge Jed Rakoff’s comments over another art restitution case brought by the heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn Bartholdy unexpectedly came to the fore recently, Judge Rakoff’s decision is now the most recent in a line of frustrations for the heirs of Mendelssohn Bartholdy, a victim of Nazi persecution in Berlin in the 1930s. The ramifications of this case may be fairly narrow, however, as the case was premised on allegations of specific transactions in New York rather than general allegations about the conduct of Germany. The claimants could appeal, or perhaps turn to the Limbach Commission if they could be heard (the Pinakothek is a subdivision of Germany for jurisdictional analysis, but it’s unclear at first blush if the Commission would view this claim as within its province).

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Topics: Paul von Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Berlin, commercial activity exception, Cornelius Gurlitt, Florence Kesselstatt, Judge Jed Rakoff, Halldor Soehner, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Julius Schoeps, Upper East Side, Prussia, Max Liebermann, Night Café, Gurlitt Collection, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Preussen, France, State Paintings Collection, Madame Soler, Museum of Modern Art, Edelgard von Lavergne-Peguilhen, Van Gogh, Munich, Justin K. Thannhauser, FSIA, expropriation exception”, Nazi persecution, Boy Leading a Horse, Restitution, David Toren, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung, Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture, Free State of Bavaria, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Bildung und Kult, Bundesländer, Altmann v. Republic of Austria, Freistaat Bayern, Le Moulin de la Galette, Kurt Martin, München, Pablo Picasso, Federal Republic of Germany, Limbach Commission, Wissenschaft und Kunst

Lauder Editorial on Stolen Art and Museums Fails the Glass House Test

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 30, 2014 at 11:11 AM

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial today by Ronald S. Lauder entitled “Time to Evict Nazi-Looted Art From Museums.” Lauder, the one-time U.S. Ambassador to Austria, current President of the World Jewish Congress, and Honorary Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is a frequent commentator on questions of stolen art. He was, for example, a reliably-available quote on the Gurlitt affair: on Germany’s steps to deal with it (or criticism for Germany’s action) and the question of stolen art in German museums. But a prominent case several years ago involving a museum with which Lauder himself is involved suggests that perhaps over-simplification is not the answer.

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Topics: Ronald S. Lauder, La bérgère, Norton Simon Museum, Gurlitt affair, Paul Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Florence Kesselstatt, Judge Jed Rakoff, Julius Schoeps, Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscat, Germany, University of Oklahoma, Monuments Men, David Findlay Jr. Gallery, MoMA, Adam, Museum of Modern Art, Edelgard von Lavergne-Peguilhen, World Jewish Congress, Boy Leading a Horse, Restitution, Marei Von Saher, Wall Street Journal, World War II, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of Wally, Camille Pissarro, Le Moulin de la Galette, U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Pablo Picasso, Museums, New York Times, Eve, New York, Time to Evict Nazi-Looted Art From Museums

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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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