Art Law Report

At U.S. Supreme Court, Jewish Heirs Lay Claim to Treasure Taken by Nazi Agents in 1935

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 22, 2020 at 4:05 PM

(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).

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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

Guelph Treasure Heirs Respond to U.S. Brief that Argued Nazi Art Theft Was a Domestic Affair

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 8, 2020 at 4:37 PM

On behalf of my clients seeking restitution of the Guelph Treasure, or Welfenschatz, we filed today our supplemental brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in response to the Brief of the United States as Amicus Curiae that the Solicitor General’s office submitted on May 26, 2020. You can read today’s brief here, and read more about the particular problems with the Solicitor General’s filing here, most notably the contention that the Nazis’ property crimes against German Jews should be considered a “domestic” issue that doesn’t implicate international law under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). It was particularly distressing that the brief was signed not only by the U.S. Department of Justice, but also the State Department.

The filing follows an increasing pattern of disregard for bipartisan Congressional action, in this case the 2016 Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act. Similarly, the 2017 Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Act that was enacted specifically to counter Poland’s and others’ hostility to restitution for Holocaust era assets has been ignored. The JUST Act required that the State Department issue a report on other countries’ restitution progress no later that November 9, 2019, yet no report has been issued. The State Department has a dedicated page on the JUST Act...which simply lists the law (Poland's embassy has its own rather self-serving version too). Something very curious is going on with restitution at the State Department, all the more heartbreaking given the 80 years of leadership on the topic by the United States.

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Supreme Court, SPK, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, FSIA, Welfenschatz, State Department, HEAR Act, JUST Act, solicitor general

U.S. Solicitor General’s Office Advocates Broad Impunity for Nazi Art Thefts

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 28, 2020 at 2:32 PM

Late Tuesday evening—the day after Memorial Day no less—the United States Office of the Solicitor General filed a brief amicus curiae in our clients’ pending case against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz for restitution of the Guelph Treasure (in German, the Welfenschatz). This brief was in response to the Supreme Court’s invitation in January that the SG file a brief expressing the views of the United States. In an unprecedented abdication of 80 years of leadership redressing Nazi-looted art, the Solicitor General argued that there is no circumstance in which a Nazi-forced sale victimizing a German Jew in the 1930s could constitute a violation of international law such the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act would confer jurisdiction over either Germany or the SPK. The U.S. government has taken the position that only property claims against non-Germans suffice—even though, of course, the U.S. government has acknowledged in every relevant context since the early 1940s that Jews ceased to be full members of German society on the day Hitler assumed power: January 30, 1933. This is an historic disgrace. Germany has rightly been shamed for minimizing in court over the last five years the genocidal character of its persecution against Jews, but for the United States to do so the day after we rightly honored the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died to defeat Nazi Germany is appalling.

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, Monuments Men, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, Supreme Court, Holocaust Victims Redress Act, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, FSIA, Monuments Fine Arts and Archives Program, Washington Principles, Federal Republic of Germany, Welfenschatz, Military Government Law 59, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, HEAR Act, Wannsee Conference, D.C. Circuit, Military Government Law No. 59, london declaration

California Resale Royalty Act Ruled Unconstitutional as to Out of State Sales, What Effect on the Market?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 6, 2015 at 6:53 AM

In a decision long awaited by artists and auction houses in particular, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the California Resale Royalty Act of 1976 (CRA)—America’s only droit de suite—is unconstitutional top regulate any sales of art outside of California. The court concluded, however, that that portion of the law is severable from the rest, and let the regulation of in-California sales stand for further interpretation by a subsidiary panel of the appeals court. There are two likely aftereffects of this decision. Galleries and auction houses can put any concerns to rest about sales in New York in particular, but one has to wonder about the effect it will have on putting items for sale in California, which will effectively have a premium not present in other states. It also raises the possibility that the resulting piecemeal framework will motivate movement on the pending federal bill (the American Royalties Too (ART) Act of 2015) concerning resale royalties. Could this be the development that prompts movement in Congress?

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Topics: Legislation, Resale Royalties, Chuck Close, Supreme Court, Christie's, Cal. Civ. Code § 986(a), Dormant Commerce Clause, droit de suite, sales tax, Cal. Redev. Ass’n v. Matosantos, use tax, American Royalties Too (ART) Act of 2015, California Resale Royalty Act, Copyright, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Sotheby's, eBay

The Woman in Gold: Why the Altmann Case Matters

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 10, 2015 at 6:35 AM

The release last week of The Woman in Gold, the feature film adaptation of The Lady in Gold by Anne Marie O’Connor, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds as Maria Altmann and her attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, respectively, as well as Tatiana Maslany as the younger Altmann and Daniel Brühl as Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin, is an important opportunity to reflect on the legal importance of the case. Even today, the case provides lessons about the way some victims are still treated, and how one individual can make sure the past is never forgotten. The looting of Jewish art collections was a concerted effort whose prominence should never be forgotten. And perhaps even more, it robs those who did survive of the dignity of remembering their family experiences. Consider: the next time you gather with your extended family, look around the room. Pick something that you’re accustomed to seeing when the family meets. Now, imagine it had been stolen or surrendered under duress, and was hanging on the wall of a national collection that denied it had been taken. How would you feel? This is the dilemma faced by many claimants, and it is precisely why Altmann matters so much.

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Topics: Maria Altmann, The Lady in Gold, Adele Bloch-Bauer, Guelph Treasure, The Woman in Gold, Daniel Brühl, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Academy of Fine Arts, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Hitler, Tatiana Maslany, Anne Marie O’Connor, Supreme Court, A Few Good Men, Belvedere, E. Randol Schoenberg, World Jewish Congress, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Ryan Reynolds, FSIA, expropriation exception”, Restitution, Neue Galerie, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Switzerland, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Helen Mirren, Museums, Fritz Altmann, Gustav Klimt, Vienna, Welfenschatz, Hubertus Czernin, Ronald Lauder, Austrian National Gallery

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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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