The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016 has been pending for several monthsnow, and was recently recommended favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. The bill would create a uniform six-year statute of limitations for Nazi-looted art claims, harmonizing an otherwise patchwork state by state system. While that consistency was laudable, our concern was that the bill as proposed would overrule New York’s important demand and refusal approach to statutes of limitations, with the effect that many otherwise timely claims in New York might become barred. The bill’s text has been quietly amended to correct that, and in other interesting ways as well. With the Presidential election just two weeks away, however, it remains anyone’s guess if the bill will become law before the new Congress is seated in January.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week (video available here) on the Holocaust Art Recovery Act (the “HEAR Act”) that drew welcome attention to the ongoing challenges to the restitution of Nazi-looted art. We were skeptical about the bill’s chances for passage when it was proposed for largely structural reasons: it is the summer before a Presidential election, which is a time when things rarely get done in Washington. Yet it is undeniable that with its bipartisan sponsors Richard Blumenthal, Charles Schumer, Ted Cruz, and John Cornyn—strange political bedfellows under any circumstance—the hearing was an open and constructive discussion that showcased real momentum towards passage. Senator Chuck Grassley’s expediting of the hearing is also a sign that there may be a vote soon. This is important, because recent bills to amend the FSIA as to looted art claims, for example, have never even had a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, let alone gotten a vote (they did pass the House first). Yesterday’s hearing definitely moves the bill into a different category with regard to its prospects. The President has not made any comments on it—yet.
The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles has denied yet another motion by the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena to dismiss claims by Marei von Saher to ownership of the Lucas Cranach paintings Adam and Eve. Ruling on the most recent argument that the claim was brought too late, the court held that the case was within California’s often-revised statute of limitations. Remarkably, even though last year’s remand from the Ninth Circuit raised the question of the application of the Act of State Doctrine, that issue went mentioned but unresolved. That could mean yet another motion before the case can proceed to trial (or even discovery).
Topics: Netherlands, Norton Simon Museum, Nazi Germany, Von Saher, Nazi-looted art, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 338, Pasadena, Adam, conflict preemption, Lucas Cranach, Cranach, Restitution, field preemption, Marei Von Saher, Statute of Limitations, Goudstikker, Los Angeles, World War II, Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum, Cassirer v. Kingdom of Spain, Museums, Eve, California Code of Civil Procedure 354.3
According to multiple news reports and his attorneys, Cornelius Gurlitt has filed a complaint for the return of the paintings seized in 2012 by the Augsburg prosecutor. Copies are not yet available, but the Gurlitt PR website www.Gurlitt.info" has a release that states as follows (thus far only in German). Stay tuned for developments if and when the document becomes available.
Topics: Schwabinger Kunstfund, Complaint, Nazi stolen art, Hannes Hartung, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Gurlitt Info, www.Gurlitt.Info, Augsburg, Germany, Tido Park, Gurlitt Collection, Beschwerde, Entartete Kunst, Gurlitt Facts, Beutekunst, Gurlitt, Restitution, Statute of Limitations, World War II, Derek Setz, degenerate art, Staatsanwalt, Strafprozessordnung (StPO) Paragraph 304, Soviet Union, Raubkunst, Verjährung, Münchner Kunstfund
Cornelius Gurlitt’s legal team has posted a new website called "Gurlitt Info" in similar (but not identical) German and English versions that is so contradicted by the repeated disclosures by the German government, that it is hard to imagine its intended purpose. As a public relations move, it is a disaster. The tactic may explain why the Augsburg prosecutor rejected the possibility of a deal with Gurlitt: he knows what he is dealing with. At the same time, the draft amendment to the statute of limitations, the Cultural Property Restitution Law (or "Lex Gurlitt," as it has somewhat misleadingly become known) is now formally before the Bundesrat for consideration as to whether to introduce the draft to the full Bundestag and possible enactment as the law of Germany. Bavarian Cultural Minister Winfried Bausbeck discusses the law here in a recent interview.
Topics: Cultural Property Restitution Law, Schwabinger Kunstfund, Bayern, Nazi stolen art, Hannes Hartung, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Gurlitt Info, Führermuseum, Germany, Gurlitt Collection, Lex Gurlitt, Red Army, Entartete Kunst, Winfried Bausbeck, Gurlitt Facts, Beutekunst, Salzburg, Bundestag, Bundesrat, Gurlitt, Restitution, Statute of Limitations, Augusburg, Bavaria, Linz, Der Spiegel, World War II, Task Force, degenerate art, Cultural Minister, Austria, Justizminister, www.lostart.de, Soviet Union, Washington Principles, Raubkunst, Verjährung, Kulturgut-Rückwehr-Gesetz, Münchner Kunstfund
Der Spiegel conducted a face to face interview with Cornelius Gurlitt that was published over the weekend, addressing his intentions about the 1,400 artworks connected to Nazi looting. Most striking was Gurlitt’s declaration with regard to the artworks seized by Bavarian tax authorities “I will give nothing back willingly.” The highlights of the interview, available in both German and English (the fuller version only in print, in German), ranges from discussing Gurlitt’s reclusive existence, to his perceived victimhood, to some standard-fare denialism (like that Hildebrand engaged in the commerce of “degenerate art” nearly always sold under duress or worse only in order to “save” the art).
Topics: veschollene Kunst, Cornelius Gurlitt, Schwabinger Kunstfund. Kunstfund München, Verjährungsfrist, Legal Times, prescriptive ownership, Gurlitt Collection, österreiches Recht, Bundesgerichtshof, Hildebrand Gurlit, Entartete Kunst, Nazis, Munich, Salzburg, Gurlitt, Restitution, City of Gotha et al. v. Sotheby’s et al., Statute of Limitations, Looted Art, World War II, deutches Recht, degenerate art, Austria, München, Raubkunst, German Civil Code § 221, Österreich
As discussed earlier in the Art Law Report, the Herzog heirs’ case against several Hungarian national museums survived dismissal (apart from their claims to 11 paintings whose ownership was litigated in Hungary previously). The remaining question was how much of the case would be heard on appeal: only the narrow question of Hungary’s sovereign immunity, or other parts of the decision on the defendants’ motion to dismiss (asserting, in part, that the claims were too old, that the claims were barred as acts of state, and that the United States is not the proper forum).
With the recent decision in the Baron Herzog case dismissing some claims but allowing the bulk of the case to go forward, the next step is determining what issues can be appealed now.
The United States District Court has allowed significant parts of the claim brought by claimed heirs of Baron Mor Lipot Herzog to go forward. The decision is significant for several reasons. First, it is the most prominent restitution case currently at the trial level, and the case will now proceed into discovery of the facts. Second, the judge turned away a strong statute of limitations argument, which has been the strong trend in recent restitution cases. On the flip side, the judge found for the defendants on eleven paintings that were the subject of prior litigiation.