As recently reported in the New York Times, the heirs of Alfred Flechtheim, a prominent German art dealer and collector, brought suit in federal court in Manhattan earlier this week against the German state of Bavaria over alleged Nazi-looted art works. The heirs argue that the German state of Bavaria has refused to return art works that were looted by the Nazis before World War II.
The Flechtheim heirs seek the return of eight paintings by artists Max Beckmann, Juan Gris and Paul Klee from the Bavarian State Paintings Collection. According to the complaint, the eight paintings include Beckmann’s “Duchess of Malvedi” (1926), “Still Life with Cigar Box” (1926), “Quappi in Blue” (1926), “Dream—Chinese Fireworks” (1927), “Champagne Still Life” (1929) and “Still Life with Studio Window” (1931); Gris’ “Cruche et Verre Sur un Table” (1916) and Klee’s “Grenzen des Verstandes” (1927).
The heirs had been in negotiations with the Bavarian government for seven years prior to filing their suit. In their court filing, they accused the German state of not meeting international commitments on the restitution of Nazi-looted art. Specifically, the complaint states “Bavaria’s refusal to confront its responsibility has persisted since the war” and its “chain of title to the paintings is defective because it was rooted in the seizure of Flechtheim’s property in violation of international law.”
In the complaint brought by the son and widow of Flechtheim’s nephew, the heirs allege that the works being sought were among those Flechtheim was forced to leave behind as he fled Germany and his galleries were taken over.
The Bavarian government has previously taken the position that the paintings were not looted art and that the works were sold by Flechtheim in 1932 before the Nazis came to power. And, in 1974, the paintings were later donated to the Bavarian State Paintings Collections by Munich art dealer, Günther Franke.
The Flechtheim heirs, however, dispute the Bavarian government’s position, citing evidence that they claim shows the paintings were still in Flechtheim’s possession in 1934 after the Nazis came to power. The heirs criticize the German state for its refusal to open records that they claim would be helpful in researching the fate of the paintings. Their court filing cites a letter sent last year to the governor of Bavaria by nearly 30 members of United States Congress requesting “‘greater dialogue and cooperation to fulfill’” international principles aimed at supporting the restitution of art seized by the Nazis.”
The case is Hulton et al. v. Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen et al., United States District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-09360.