A new lawsuit seeking to seize a painting by Van Gogh currently at the Detroit Institute of Arts for the show “Van Gogh in America,” a painting which the plaintiff alleges was unlawfully taken has brought back into focus the law in the United States that address immunity from seizure. That is to say, what are the circumstances under which a work of art loaned on exhibition—even if stolen property—might nonetheless have to be returned to the lender? The results, and the criteria, are often surprising to the casual viewer but are important to review for museums, collectors, and anyone involved in art loans.
Topics: Malevich, Schiele, 22 U.S.C. § 2459, Pinacoteca di Brera, Museum of Modern Art, Van Gogh, IFSA, Leopold Collection, Portrait of Wally, Immunity from Seizure Act, State Department, Detroit Institute of Art, Brokerarte Capital Partners LLC, The Reading Lady, Liseuse De Romans, George Caram Steeh, Gustavo Soter, The Novel Reader, replevin
Since the passage in 2016 of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, many commenters (here included) have grappled with what the implications of the law will be on the scope and frequency of future claims. Even as litigants are faced with policy arguments about whether individual claims belong in U.S. courts—arguments that the HEAR Act should have put to rest—it is occasionally worthwhile to consider how prior cases would have been affected. Such analysis can draw into relief why the law was such a significant step forward. This week, news that a painting by Vincent Van Gogh once owned by Elizabeth Taylor will go to auction again provides one such example. A beautiful painting in the collection of the biggest movie star in the world makes for a great sales pitch, but missing in the coverage is any mention of Margarethe Mauthner, a German Jew who owned the painting before fleeing the Nazi regime. The exact circumstances under which she lost possession of the painting are unclear, but those circumstances might have had the chance to be determined had the HEAR Act been passed earlier. The importance of that opportunity is worth considering as the law is assessed going forward.
Topics: Margarethe Mauthner, Nazi-looted art, Van Gogh, Christie's, Holocaust Victims Redress Act, Sotheby's, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, HEAR Act, A Tragic Fate, Vue de l'asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy, Alfred Wolf, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Cassirer
The Detroit News ran a story today (in which I'm quoted) about the proposed deaccession of an early Van Gogh from the Detroit Institute of Arts, a topic we've covered recently. Somewhat surprisingly, after the museum made its case for the sale of the painting, those plans have apparently changed. From today's article by Laura Berman concerning director Graham W.J. Beal's statements about the museum's plans:
We mused recently about (and tried to clarify) the possible tension between the Detroit Institute of Arts’ successful scuttling of any plans to consider selling its collection to satisfy the city’s debts in the Detroit Bankruptcy. The purpose of the post was not guileful: it seemed likely that many readers might be confused about how Detroit could propose to sell artwork when so much coverage had been addressed to the idea of not selling artwork. In fact, the two ideas are entirely consistent with the consensus of museum governance ethics, but we thought it was an occasion to prompt discussion about the policy behind those ethical guidelines. After all, apart from New York, the rules of deaccessioning are not actually law, they are enforced essentially through collective opprobrium. To facilate that discussion, I quoted Donn Zaretsky, a prominent critic of the status quo, for readers to consider on the one hand, against the guidelines themselves on the other hand.
Topics: Donn Zaretsky, Deaccession, Detroit bank, Graham W. J. Beal, Randy Kennedy, Deaccessioning, Van Gogh, Detroit Institute of Arts, DIA, Museums, New York Times, Chagall, Detroit Bankruptcy, Art Law Report
Readers will no doubt be puzzled by the news this week that the Detroit Institute of Arts—fresh off of the Grand Bargain, in which an infusion of donations and fundraising led to the transfer of the collection’s ownership back to the museum and off the table in the context of the Detroit Bankruptcy—is moving ahead with plans to deaccession works of art in its collection, a Van Gogh in particular. There are a number of things going on in this latest development, which need to be distinguished.
Topics: Graham Beal, Deaccession, Delaware Museum of Art, American Alliance of Museums, Donn Zaretzky, Deaccessioning, AAM, Van Gogh, Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Association of Art Museum Directors, Museums, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD, grand bargain
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has dismissed claims for ownership of Madame Soler by Pablo Picasso, currently at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Just as the relevance of Judge Jed Rakoff’s comments over another art restitution case brought by the heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn Bartholdy unexpectedly came to the fore recently, Judge Rakoff’s decision is now the most recent in a line of frustrations for the heirs of Mendelssohn Bartholdy, a victim of Nazi persecution in Berlin in the 1930s. The ramifications of this case may be fairly narrow, however, as the case was premised on allegations of specific transactions in New York rather than general allegations about the conduct of Germany. The claimants could appeal, or perhaps turn to the Limbach Commission if they could be heard (the Pinakothek is a subdivision of Germany for jurisdictional analysis, but it’s unclear at first blush if the Commission would view this claim as within its province).
Topics: Paul von Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Berlin, commercial activity exception, Cornelius Gurlitt, Florence Kesselstatt, Judge Jed Rakoff, Halldor Soehner, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Julius Schoeps, Upper East Side, Prussia, Max Liebermann, Night Café, Gurlitt Collection, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Preussen, France, State Paintings Collection, Madame Soler, Museum of Modern Art, Edelgard von Lavergne-Peguilhen, Van Gogh, Munich, Justin K. Thannhauser, FSIA, expropriation exception”, Nazi persecution, Boy Leading a Horse, Restitution, David Toren, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung, Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture, Free State of Bavaria, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Bildung und Kult, Bundesländer, Altmann v. Republic of Austria, Freistaat Bayern, Le Moulin de la Galette, Kurt Martin, München, Pablo Picasso, Federal Republic of Germany, Limbach Commission, Wissenschaft und Kunst