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

Germany and its Federal States Announce Collective Declaration with Respect to Colonial Artifacts and Human Remains

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 22, 2019 at 11:22 AM

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.  

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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

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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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