(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
(WASHINGTON-October 22, 2020) The heirs to the Jewish art dealers who were forced to sell the medieval devotional art collection known as the Welfenschatz (in English, the Guelph Treasure) to agents of Hermann Goering in 1935 filed their brief today in the Supreme Court of the United States. It can be viewed at this link. The Supreme Court is set to hear argument on December 7, 2020, on whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) and its “takings clause” create jurisdiction over the heirs’ claims for restitution of the Welfenschatz—as all reviewing courts so far have held. The Welfenschatz is held by the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (in English, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation).
Topics: Third Reich, Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Z.M. Hackenbroch, Prussia, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Markus Stoetzel, Supreme Court, Mel Urbach, SPK, Nuremberg race laws, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, FSIA, NS Raubkunst, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, J.S. Goldschmidt, Gerald Stiebel, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Adolf Hitler, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Alan Philipp, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, Paul Körner, Wannsee Conference, Jed Leiber, House of Brunswick (Braunschweig)-Lüneberg, Emily Haber, Wilhelm Stuckart, Final Solution
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.
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
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.
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
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)
(WASHINGTON-July 10, 2018) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has affirmed the right of the heirs to the so-called Guelph Treasure (known in German as the Welfenschatz) to seek restitution in U.S. courts for the value of the treasured art collection. The appellate court rejected Defendants’ arguments that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction, or that Germany’s treatment of its Jews in the 1930s should be immune from judicial scrutiny. While the Federal Republic of Germany itself was dismissed as a defendant, the actual possessor and key party in interest (the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, or SPK) must now prove that a 1935 transfer of the collection by a consortium of Jewish art dealers to Hermann Goering’s minions was a legitimate transaction if they are to retain the collection.
Topics: Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Z.M. Hackenbroch, Prussia, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, SPK, Hermann Goering, FSIA, NS Raubkunst, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, J.S. Goldschmidt, Adolf Hitler, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, D.C. Circuit, Consortium, Genocide Convention, Reichstag, flight taxes, Baltimore Sun, Luftwaffe
As Germany puts on the much-anticipated exhibition in Bonn of Cornelius Gurlitt’s disputed collection, a strange story has developed not too far away in Düsseldorf. The Stadtmuseum, which is administered by the city itself, had organized—but now cancelled—“Max Stern: from Düsseldorf to Montreal.” The exhibition was scheduled to open in February in Düsseldorf, before traveling to the Haifa art museum in September of 2018 and to the McCord Museum in Montreal in 2019. The city’s acknowledgement that the decision was based on a claim for restitution from the Max Stern Estate is a disturbing development that provides no sound reason to cancel a show about an important dealer who, it is undisputed, was a seminal figure of Nazi persecution.
Topics: Nuremberg laws, Cologne, Cornelius Gurlitt, Germany, The Art Newspaper, Köln, Nazi-looted art, Düsseldorf, The New York Times, A Tragic Fate, Max Stern from Düsseldorf to Montreal, McCord Museum, Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, Dr. and Mrs. Max Stern Foundation, Max Stern Restitution Project, Girl from the Sabine Mountains, Max Stern, Haifa, Francis Xavier Winterhalter, Mädchen aus den Sabiner Bergen, The Artist’s Children, Wilhelm von Schadow, Düsseldorf Kunstpalast, Andreas Achenbach, Sicilian Landscape, Norwegian Landscape, Galerie Max Stern, Mayor Thomas Geisel
News Accompanied by Deafening Silence About Ongoing Restitution Policy Failures
The German government announced recently that it had returned an additional work of art found in the Salzburg home of Cornelius Gurlitt in connection with the 2013 revelation of Gurlitt’s trove of art originally in the possession of his late father Hildebrand. La Seine, vue du Pont-Neuf, au fond le Louvre by Camille Pissarro (1902) has been returned to the heirs of Max Heilbronn, from whom it was taken in 1942 in France. The accompanying announcement was of a piece with the ongoing fiasco of the Gurlitt affair: a press release touting the personal involvement of Germany’s Minister of Culture Monika Grütters, a self-serving but vague statement about commitments to restitution, and absolutely no explanation or update about what is happening to the hundreds of additional paintings and objects under investigation. The press release was also sure to mention an upcoming exhibition of Gurlitt collection works later this year. In sum, the announcement confirms precisely the opposite of its intended effect.
Topics: Guelph Treasure, Cornelius Gurlitt, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Washington Conference Principles, Hildebrand Gurlit, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Kunstmuseum Bern, Monika Grütters, Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund, Welfenschatz, Minister of Culture, Gurlitt Taskforce
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
Two pending cases have invoked the new law
A recent article in the New York Times highlights the change that the recent passage of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016 has had on disputes about the timeliness of claims for allegedly Nazi-looted art. The odd part, however, is that the case cited by the Times is not one in which the HEAR Act has been invoked or argued, though it could be some day. As far as we are aware, there has been briefing on the effect of the HEAR Act in two cases, my clients’ claim against the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) and Germany in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, and Laurel Zuckerman’s claim as representative of the Leffmann estate in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Only two months after its passage, the law is already changing the terms of debate.
Topics: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Germany, Seated Woman wiht Bent Left Leg (Torso), Bakalar v. Vavra, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Fritz Grünbaum, Egon Schiele, David Bakalar, HEAR Act, Richard Nagy, Laurel Zuckerman, Alice Leffmann