Art Law Report

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

"A Tragic Fate" named to Kirkus Reviews 100 Best of 2017

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 18, 2017 at 2:39 PM

I am pleased to report that A Tragic Fate—Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (Ankerwycke) has been named one of Kirkus Reviews’ 100 Best Indie books of 2017.

A Tragic Fate received a star review from Kirkus in June, one of only 10% of reviews to receive that designation.  Now, A Tragic Fate has been honored as a selected “Best of 2017” from among those small number of starred review.

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Topics: Nicholas M. O'Donnell, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Kirkus Reviews

“Nazi-Looted Art: From Fair and Just Solutions to Litigation” in London September 13, 2017

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 8, 2017 at 11:40 AM

I am pleased to announce that I will be speaking about my book A Tragic Fate: Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (now available in both hardcover and Kindle edition) and related topics on September 13, 2017 at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Art and Law.  Entitled “Nazi-Looted Art: From Fair and Just Solutions to Litigation,” I will give an overview of the topic of the intersection between legal and ethical challenges that have surrounded efforts to restitute art looted by the Nazis and their allies.  A panel discussion will follow with experts Tony Baumgartner of Clyde & Co. (and a member of the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel), Charlotte Woodhead (Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick and an instructor at the Institute of Art and Law) and Gregor Kleinknecht of Hunter Solicitors.  There will be a reception and an opportunity to buy and have copies of the book signed. 

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Topics: Nazi-looted art, Events, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Tony Baumgartner, Clyde & Co., Institute of Art and Law, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London, From Fair and Just Solutions to Litigation, Charlotte Woodhead, Gregor Kleinknecht, Hunter Solicitors

Praise from Kirkus Reviews for "A Tragic Fate"

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 21, 2017 at 12:18 PM

The following is from the Kirkus Reviews starred review of A Tragic Fate--Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (emphasis added)

A comprehensive review of United States court cases involving art that was plundered by Nazis.

Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime was always keenly attuned to the power of cultural symbolism and eager to find new ways to disenfranchise Jewish people. These two preoccupations converged in their looting of privately owned art between 1933 and 1945. Some treasures were brazenly confiscated, while others were purchased at steep, coerced discounts. In the last few decades, there’s been growing interest in this large-scale larceny, and yet much of the stolen art will likely never be returned to its original owners. Debut author O’Donnell, an attorney, calls this the “central paradox posed by disputes in the last twenty years.” In this book, he diligently catalogs the many moral and judicial reasons for this absurdity, as well as the evolution of laws regarding claims. His study specifically focuses on cases that resulted in litigation in America, providing an exhaustive account of each and arguing that such litigation can be an effective legal strategy, despite complaints to the contrary. O’Donnell also includes discussions of landmark moments in art-restitution law, such as the London Declaration in 1943, the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998, and the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The United States emerges in O’Donnell’s account as an early, forceful leader in international art restitution, despite the fact that some of its own laws, and even the Fifth Amendment, can complicate victims’ options. His mastery of the relevant law is nothing short of stunning, and his meticulous parsing of legal detail leaves no stones unturned.

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Topics: Nazi-looted art, Books, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Kirkus Reviews

New Book by Nicholas M. O'Donnell: "A Tragic Fate--Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi Looted Art"

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 19, 2017 at 11:46 AM

New book explores the historical, ethical, and legal consequences of stolen art

I am pleased to announce that my book A Tragic Fate—Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (Ankerwycke/ABA Publishing ) is available for purchase and delivery.  I am proud to have composed the first comprehensive overview of looted art disputes in the United States, grounded in the historical and ethical perspectives that have shaped the debate over time.  This has been a fascinating project that am very excited to share.  As I hope readers of the blog will agree, my effort is always to provide a resource that those of general interest will find engaging but not hypertechincal, and which practioners will find useful as a resource. 

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Topics: Catherine Hickley, Nazi-looted art, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Books, Georgina Adam, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Art Law Report, ABA Publishing, Ankerwycke, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art

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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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