(Germany’s highest court issued a much-anticipated ruling on a challenge by a collector to the listing of his painting in the so-called Lost Art database in Magdeburg, Germany. The Bundesgerichtshof (BGH) ruled that the listing will not be deleted where “based on true facts.” The ruling underscores the informative, rather than legal, nature of the database, which describes itself as documenting “cultural property that was either demonstrably seized from their owners between 1933 and 1945 as a result of Nazi persecution, or for which such a seizure cannot be ruled out.” Insofar as the case just decided involves a well-known victim of Nazi-persecution, the clarification is a welcome and important one. As always in this area, however, the hard cases are harder. The case stopped short of resolving more nuanced cases, or addressing what recourse a collector might have in situations where a listing effectively makes a painting impossible to sell. Perhaps the best course would be to take heed of the way the court decided this case: the database is a critical tool of information, but a less useful one when it comes to sorting out legal rights.
Topics: Lost Art Database, Germany, Bundesgerichtshof, Van Gogh, Magdeburg, Nazi persecution, BGH, IFAR, Art Loss Register, A Tragic Fate, Girl from the Sabine Mountains, Francis Xavier Winterhalter, Vue de l'asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy, Elizabeth Taylor, German Lost Art Foundation, Calabrian Coast, Kalabrische Küste, Concordia University, Zentrum für Kulturgutverluste, ALR, Düsseldorf, Bettina Brückner
The New York Times reported yesterday that the German Lost Art Foundation had removed several paintings once owned by the Viennese cabaret actor Fritz Grünbaum from the Lost Art database. While the history of these objects is hotly contested, it was a particularly strange choice given that Grünbaum’s heirs just won a judgment earlier this year that the works by Schiele must be returned to them—by reason of Nazi duress. For a database that has never been suggested as an adjudication of rights but rather as a repository of notice to the world of possible title issues, it was a perplexing choice. Against the backdrop of the party that the German government and the foundation are throwing themselves in November for which few outsiders have been able to register, the explanation appears much less benign particularly against the backdrop of the government’s historical revisionism in U.S. federal court litigation.
Topics: Guelph Treasure, laches, Cornelius Gurlitt, Germany, Nazi-looted art, res judicata, Die Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste, Holocaust, Magdeburg, Fritz Grünbaum, NS Raubkunst, Bavaria, Egon Schiele, Mathilde Lukacs, Task Force, New York Times, National Gallery, A Tragic Fate, German Lost Art Foundation, Kieslinger, Woman in a Black Pinafore, Woman Hiding her Face, Charles E. Ramos, Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso)