In recent art world news, a prized painting, “La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore” (1739-40) by the artist Michele Marieschi, has become the focus of a 70-year restitution effort by the Graf family and its heirs that is now being resolved on an ambivalent note.

Back in 1937, Vienna, a couple named Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf purchased a scenic 18th-century oil painting of the Grand Canal in Venice with the Punta Della Dogana in the background.  The Graf family considered the prized painting to be the highlight of their treasured art collection.  The next year, after Austria was annexed by Germany, the Grafs along with their young twin daughters, Erika and Eva, fled the country.  In 1942, by the time the family settled in New York, all the family’s possessions had been looted by the Nazis.

The prized painting will be part of an upcoming old masters auction in July at Sotheby’s in London as a restitution settlement reached between the heirs and a trust on behalf of the now deceased owner.  Sotheby’s has estimated the painting’s value in the range of $650,000 to $905,000.  Though treasured by the Graf family, the painting is not widely considered to be a significant work.

This painful and circuitous history reflects how looted artworks that have been in private hands for decades are coming to market after settlement agreements with the rightful owners, in a way that tries to address their tainted past.  These agreements may not result in the return of the paintings to the heirs, but the compromise does provide at least a form of resolution and some compensation to the heirs, and brings the artworks out of hiding.”

The heirs of the Graf family were not able to have the painting returned to them because the deceased owner and the trust declined to return the artwork.  Instead, an agreement was reached between the parties that includes sharing of the proceeds from the Sotheby’s sale.

The Graf family had been actively searching for the painting since 1946 around the time Heinrich Graf submitted a claim for the work in Austria.  Decades later, in 1998, the two daughters with the assistance of the Art Loss Register, a database of lost and stolen art that also offers search services, posted an ad in The Art Newspaper seeking information on the painting.

In 2013, after the death of the owner of the painting, the artwork fell into a trust.  In 2015, the trust reached out to Art Recovery International, which specializes in the mediation of restitution claims.  It was around this time that negotiations with the Graf heirs began.  The estate of the deceased owner and the Graf family reached the restitution agreement in December.

For further information on this intriguing story, see “After Decades, A ‘Bittersweet’ Resolution Over Lost Art[,]” published online by The New York Times on May 28, 2017.

In recent art world news, recent restitution efforts of the Netherlands for returning looted art have come under scrutiny.  Some international critics assert that Dutch policies for restitution of looted art have become stricter once again.

Following World War II marked a “period in Dutch history when a cold cynicism toward Holocaust survivors meant that thousands of masterly works were rescued from the Nazis only to end up as Dutch national property” in which many of the works were displayed in Dutch museums.  The Allies returned about 8,000 to 9,000 works of art that had been found in Germany to the Netherlands.  This represented less than half of the works reported missing by the Holocaust survivor claimants.  By the early 1950s, the Dutch government announced that the restitution process had been completed and had stopped accepting claims – only about 500 to 1,000 works had been returned to their rightful owners at the time.

The Netherlands was once ridiculed for its obtuse efforts at recovery of looted works, but in the late 1990s the country embraced “progressive and pioneering efforts that have led it to be considered a model for enlightened restitution.”  While there were efforts in some European countries after the war to compensate victims of Nazi looting, new scholarship and media coverage in the 1990s persuaded other countries to review their own restitution policies in an effort to improve the restitution process.

In recent years, the country’s restitution policy requires the government panel that determines restitution cases to balance the interests of national museums against the claims by Holocaust survivors or their heirs.  In particular, the policy requires the panel to weigh “the significance of the work to public art collections” against the emotional attachment of the claimant.

As a recent example of the effect of the policy, in 2013, a claim for the Bernardo Strozzi painting entitled “Christ and the Samaritan Woman,” filed by the heirs of a German-Jewish refugee, was rejected because the work was important to the Dutch museum that displayed it.

According to Anne Webber, chairwoman of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, “[t]he balance-of-interests test means that even if a claimant submits a claim to the restitution committee for a work of art, and even if the panel finds that the claim is good, is right, the claimants don’t automatically get their painting back, nor do they get any remedy.”

Last fall the Dutch culture minister had outlined some planned changes to the country’s current restitution policy, including term limits for members of the restitution panel and the establishment of a “World War II Expertise Center, a centralized contact point for information and research that will open this autumn, as part of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam.”

The lapses of the Dutch restitution process after World War II and the Dutch efforts to address them are the subjects of a new exhibition entitled “Looted Art—Before, During and After WWII,” which recently opened on May 12, 2017 at the medieval Bergkerk cathedral in Deventer, The Netherlands.

ArtNet news recently reported that the painting of a slumbering child painted by American illustrator Norman Rockwell (pictured below) has been returned to its rightful owners by the FBI.  The recently recovered work has been known by various titles over the years including Taking a Break, Lazybones, and Boy Asleep with Hoe.

The painting was owned by the Grant family for nearly 20 years before it was stolen in 1976.  Last year, the FBI issued a press release marking the 40th anniversary of the theft of the painting.  In response to the press release, an antiques dealer contacted the Bureau’s art crimes division to say he thought he might be in possession of the work in question. The anonymous dealer handed over the Rockwell and is not believed to have been involved in the theft or subject to any charges.

The painting sold in the 1950s for $100, but the current fair market value of the work could be as much as $1 million.

Read more here.

In recent art news, longtime collaborators and respected art scholars, Emma C. Bunker and Douglas A. J. Latchford, who had become authorities on Southeast Asian antiquities in which their approval could virtually guarantee an ancient object’s value and legitimacy, have become entangled in a criminal lawsuit filed by the Manhattan district attorney last December in New York as “Co-Conspirator No. 1” and “Co-Conspirator No. 2.”  Although neither expert has been charged and neither is named in the complaint, it was reported that people familiar with the case have confirmed their identities.

The collaborators and longtime friends authored three seminal volumes, namely, “Adoration and Glory:  The Golden Age of Khmer Art,” “Khmer Gold” and “Khmer Bronzes,” which are regarded as core reference works for other experts.

The complaint alleges that “over a period of years the co-conspirators and others helped a prominent New York gallery owner, Nancy Wiener, falsify the documentary history of looted Cambodian relics, making them easier to market.”  A federal agent said in the complaint that “[m]isrepresenting the true provenance of an antiquity is essential for selling stolen items in the market.”

In the criminal suit, Wiener, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of using her business “to buy, smuggle, launder and sell millions of dollars worth of antiquities stolen from Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan and Thailand.”

While the accusations in this case are hardly new in the history of art fraud, experts comment that this case

highlights the vulnerabilities of the art world, where authenticity and ownership disputes are common and where scholarship, and the people who can wield it, often provide the imprimatur that dealers need to close sales.”

Neither Bunker nor Latchford have responded to news media requests for an interview.  However, Latchford has denied any wrongdoing in previous interviews and defended his collecting practices as the “norm for an era when far less rigor was attached to provenance and sales documents.”

For additional information regarding this intriguing case, see “Expert Opinion or Elaborate Ruse?  Scrutiny for Scholars’ Role in Art Sales,” published online by the New York Times on March 30, 2017.

 

The New York Times recently reported on a lawsuit filed in New York State Court in which the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum are citing the recently enacted Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (known as the HEAR Act) in an effort to claim two valuable drawings by the late Austrian artist Egon Schiele.  The HEAR Act, adopted last December, has been widely praised as a necessary tool to provide the victims of Holocaust-era persecution and their heirs a fair opportunity to recover works of art confiscated or misappropriated by the Nazis during World War II.

Grunbaum’s nearly 450 piece exquisite art collection has been the center of controversy almost since the collection was confiscated from his Vienna apartment in 1938.  Over the years, Grunbaum’s heirs have argued that the collection was stolen by the Nazis.

Others, such as collectors, dealers and some museums have countered that the artwork was inventoried by the Nazis and not stolen, and that 53 of the some 81 Schiele works were legitimately sold by Grunbaum’s sister-in-law to a Swiss art dealer in 1956.  These parties are of the view that previous courts have found that the Schiele works were not stolen and that no further claims should be considered on such works.

However, the Grunbaum heirs assert that the previous claims, in the present case and others, were determined on legal technicalities, not the merit of the argument that the works were looted by the Nazis and that this is the type of case that the new law was enacted to address.

The HEAR Act creates a federal statute of limitations for such claims that is six years from the time of “actual discovery” of the whereabouts of the work.  The new law is consistent with the “spirit of two international proclamations stating that technicalities should not be employed to prevent stolen property from being returned to rightful owners.”

The two Schiele works being sought by Grunbaum’s heirs, namely, “Woman in a Black Pinafore” (1911) and “Woman Hiding Her Face” (1912), were part of the 1956 sale to the Swiss dealer.  The attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs, however, argues that the circumstances of the 1956 sales transaction were never fully investigated and that the lost works were not discovered by the heirs until they were noticed for sale at a 2015 art fair.  The two Schiele drawings are said to be valued together at about $5 million.

The Grunbaum heirs’ suit was filed in November 2015 after learning that Richard Nagy, a London art dealer and Schiele specialist, was trying to sell the two Schiele drawings at an art fair at the Park Avenue Armory earlier that same year.  Nagy has fought the claim in court by arguing that he acquired both works “in good faith and in a commercially reasonable manner” after the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs appeal of an earlier case.  Nagy’s attorneys argue that prior court rulings on the Schiele works from the Grunbaum collection were based on a finding that such works had been properly conveyed in 1956.  Specifically, Nagy’s attorneys assert that the attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs was wrong to invoke the new HEAR Act because the law does not apply to cases where a final judgment has been reached.

Agnes Peresztegi, president and legal counsel of the Commission on Art Recovery, an organization founded by billionaire art collector Ronald S. Lauder, however, sides with the position of the attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs.  She indicated that the prior case was not decided on the merits, but rather on a technical issue that too much time had passed to pursue a claim.  Peresztegi “welcomes the use of the new law in deciding whether many of the Grunbaum collection’s Schieles, including the two owned by Mr. Nagy, were stolen.”

The attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs maintains a positive attitude regarding the case in which he recently indicated that “[w]e believe that the expert report and scholarship of Dr. Jonathan Petropoulos, the world’s leading expert in this field, will persuade the court that the evidence shows that Fritz Grunbaum was a victim of Nazi art looting.”

We will continue to monitor this case and will report updates on same on the Art Law blog.

 

 

 

In recent art world news, a cat burglar was sentenced to eight years in prison by a criminal court in Paris for stealing five masterpieces from the Paris Museum of Modern Art.  The burglar admitted that he had stolen five paintings worth over 104 million euros (about $110 million) during a predawn break-in at the museum back in May 2010.  The stolen works include paintings by Modigliani, Léger, Braque, Matisse (“Pastoral”) and Picasso (“Dove With Green Peas”).

Also given prison sentences were two accomplices, including an antiques dealer for commissioning the heist and for storing the stolen paintings and a clock maker for storing the stolen paintings later.  The cat burglar was fined 200,000 euros (about $212,000) and both accomplices were fined 150,000 euros (about $159,000).  In addition, all three individuals were ordered to collectively pay a 104 million euro indemnification (about $110 million), which represents the paintings’ estimated value at the time they were stolen, to the City of Paris.

It has been reported that there remains some mystery “as to whether the paintings were sold, hidden somewhere safe or, in a worst-case scenario, destroyed, as one defendant claimed during the trial.”

The City of Paris has increased its security measures at its 14 museums, including the Petit Palais, since the burglary.  Other museums, such as the Louvre, are managed by the French national government.

Among other high profile burglaries in recent years include “the theft of Munch’s ‘Scream’ in 2004 in Oslo by armed robbers, and that of Francis Bacon paintings from a private residence in Madrid in 2015.”

In an attempt to curb illicit trafficking of fine art and antiques, a group of Geneva based art professionals known as the Responsible Art Market Initiative (RAM), which include dealers and art law attorneys, will publish a dossier on art market best practices for free ports and custom-free zones. There have been numerous reports of looted art appearing in free ports. Of recent note, an Amedeo Modigliani painting worth approximately $20 million with Nazi links was located last year in the Geneva free port.  However, despite this high profile Swiss scandal, the Responsible Art Market Initiative has reported that its dossier of guidelines will serve the art market at large, and is not solely designed for the Swiss market (which has been reported to only make up 2% of the art market).  Our contributors have noted in previous posts that the upsurge in the use of free ports by collectors has led to concerns over the use of such storage spaces for illegal activities.

In recent art world news, on December 29, 2016, the Polish government signed an agreement with the privately owned Princes Czartoryski Foundation to purchase the Czartoryski art collection, which is recognized as one of Europe’s most significant private art collections.  The family foundation has administered the collection since its inception in 1991.

The Czartoryski art collection includes 250,000 historic manuscripts and documents, some of which were previously owned by Polish kings.  The treasured collection also includes 86,000 museum artifacts of which contain 593 precious artworks, most notably, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady With an Ermine” (1489-1490), Rembrandt’s “Landscape With the Good Samaritan” (1638), and sketches by Rembrandt, Auguste Renoir and Albrecht Dürer.

The purchase transaction only changes the status of the family art collection, which was set up more than 200 years ago by Princess Izabela Czartoryska.  It has been reported that the artworks will remain where they are today – most are housed and displayed in the National Museum in Krakow with the exception of “Lady With an Ermine”, which is displayed at the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow.

The legal effort of Poland’s culture ministry “reflects a broader goal by the right-wing Law and Justice government, which since taking power more than a year ago has been striving to re-establish Polish heritage and history as a source of national identity and pride.”  Poland’s deputy prime minister and minister of culture, Piotr Glinski, who signed the agreement, has acknowledged that the $105 million paid for the collection by the Polish government is “way below the market price,” which is widely estimated at more than $2 billion, and the transaction can be viewed more as a “donation.”

Many artworks from the family art collection were looted during the war years, including Raphael’s masterpiece “Portrait of a Young Man” (1513-1514) and were never recovered.  The list of lost art work includes as many as 800 works.  The recently signed agreement “not only gives Poland the rights to the current collection, but also transfers the rights to any future claims to works of art that may be retrieved.”

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.

In recent art world news, a Nazi-looted sculpture has been restituted to the rightful owners by the City of Berlin.  The looted art is a marble sculpture by Reinhold Begas entitled Susanna (1869-72) and the rightful owners are the heirs of the former publishing mogul Rudolf Mosse.

At the turn of the century, Mosse was one of the three wealthiest men in Berlin.  According to The Art Newspaper, Mosse’s “palatial neo-Baroque home on Leipziger Platz was filled with paintings, sculptures, antique furnishings and tapestries.  His collection included works by Max Liebermann, Carl Spitzweg, Wilhelm Leibl, Hans Makart and Adolph Menzel.”

Mosse was a successful publisher of the Berliner Tagesblatt newspaper, “a staunch advocate of democracy even before the Weimar Republic.”  After his passing in 1920, Mosse’s son-in-law, Hans Lachmann-Mosse managed the newspaper until he and his wife, Felicia Lachmann-Mosse, were forced to flee the Nazi regime eventually emigrating to the United States from Switzerland.

Mosse’s collection had been bequeathed to his daughter, Ms. Felicia Lachmann-Mosse, but had become lost after her emigration.  In 1934, the family’s possessions were seized and sold at auction and the family never saw the proceeds.

The Mosse Art Restitution Project was established by the family in 2012 in order to locate the missing art works.  Since the founding of the Project, eight works were returned in 2015.

According to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the marble sculpture will remain on loan to Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin, where it is currently on display.