Hungary Sued in US Over Nazi-Era Restitution Claim

One of the claimed works
“The Annunciation of Saint Joachim”, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 

Carol Vogel reports that the descendants of a Hungarian banker have filed suit in United States District Court over the disposition of a number of works of art.  The defendants include Hungary and a number of Hungarian museums.  The claimants are the descendents of Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, a jewish-Hungarian banker.  Vogel reports that most of the disputed works have been “hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary.”  
I have not been able to track down the plaintiff’s complaint just yet, so I cannot really comment on the substance of these claims.  Vogel reports that this suit raises new issues in that the claimants are seeking 40 specific works, but have also asked for an accounting of other works which may have once been owned by the Herzog family.  It seems curious that these claimants are bringing suit in the United States for these objects, jurisdiction must surely play an important role in the case, as will the timeliness of these claims.  It seems the claimants have been requesting these works for nearly twenty years.  A court in Hungary has ruled against the claimants in 2008, so it remains to be seen how an American court will be able to exercise jurisdiction over a dispute involving works once owned by a Hungarian, which are now on display in Hungary, and which have been previously ruled upon by a Hungarian court.  
A Renaissance portrait by Georg Pencz, recently restituted
We can contrast the litigation of these issues with the approach of the Spoliation Advisory Panel in the United Kingdom.  Rather than litigate these issues, the panel is charged with evaluating the claims of those who were dispossessed of their works of art during the Nazi era.  It recently handed over this work to the descendants of Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, and was recently sold for 5.6 million pounds at a Christie’s auction.  
Reading Vogel’s account, we are left wondering why exactly Hungary has refused to work with the claimants.  It appears they approached Hungary and asked to “split” the paintings under dispute but were refused.  These are important works, and one can understand why a State or museum would be reluctant to lose them.  Yet Vogel’s account paints Hungary as a villain, unable and unwilling to account for Nazi-era works.  Is it really that simple?  Surely there must be a principled reason for Hungary refusing to return these works?  Anyone who has access to the complaint or to the recent Hungarian decision, please do drop me a line (derek.fincham “at” gmail.com).  
  1. Carol Vogel, Hungary Is Sued Over Large Holocaust Art Claim, The New York Times, July 27, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/arts/design/28lawsuit.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss (last visited Jul 28, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Profile of Howard Spiegler

Nancy Greenleese has a very fine profile of Howard Spiegler for Voice of America.  Mr. Spiegler has been an important advocate in a number of important art and antiquities restitution cases.  Because of this great work he received the 2010 ARCA Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art.

The audio profile includes highlights of Mr. Spiegler’s remarks at the ARCA conference, as well as the comments of Chris Marinello of the Art Loss Register, and historian Marc Masurovsky.

You can listen to the profile here.

  1. Nancy Greenleese, Fighting for Art Justice, Voice of America, http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/american-life/Fighting-for-Art-Justice-99225324.html (last visited Jul 26, 2010).
Howard Spiegler at the 2010 ARCA Conference
(Urska Charney)

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Footnotes

“The Gross Clinic”, after restoration

  • The Gross Clinic has been restored, all because of a deaccession.  
  • Twelve men were recently sentenced in France for creating an elaborate art forgery network, making and selling nearly 100 copies of works by Picasso, Chagall, Leger, and others between 1997 and 2005.  
  • Massive cuts are in store for the arts in the United Kingdom, a combination of the 2012 “successful” Olympic bid, and budget shortfalls.
  • That should put pressure on the Waverley export system.  Great Britain has blocked export of a work by Spanish old master Murillo to attempt to match the purchase price and allow the work to remain in the United Kingdom.  
  • Artists are taking a position on the deaccession problems faced by Brandeis University and its Rose Art Museum.  
  • Is there a “Great Museum Cartel“?
  • Banksy creates a work on a wall near an abandoned Packer auto plant in Detroit, somehow an ownership dispute ensues.
  • Divers exploring a shipwreck off the coast of Aaland in Sweden have found 30 bottles of well-preserved Champagne which may predate the French Revolution.    
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Settlement Finally Reached in "Portrait of Wally" Case

“Portrait of Wally”, by Egon Schiele

As has been hinted for a few days now, the very long legal dispute over this work has been settled.  A trial was set to begin on July 26th. This was a dispute brought nearly 12 years ago by Federal prosecutors against the work.   In these civil forfeiture proceedings it is then the task of all claimants to the painting to come forward and establish their claims to the work.  The painting had been on display in New York for a traveling exhibition and days before it was slated to return to Austria, legal proceedings were initiated.  The Leopold Museum in Vienna purchased the work in 1954, and has agreed to pay the successors of Lea Bondi Jaray—the woman who was forced to sell the work when the Nazis came to power—a settlement in the amount of $19 million. 

Both the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art which had received the loan of the work opposed the legal action, arguing that it would chill the movement of works of art for traveling exhibitions. 

  From the press release of Herrick, Feinstein here are the details of the settlement:

(a) the Leopold Museum pays the Estate $19 Million;
(b) the Estate releases its claim to the Painting;
(c) the United States Government dismisses the civil forfeiture action it brought against the Leopold Museum and releases the Painting to the Leopold Museum;
(d) the Leopold Museum will permanently display signage next to the Painting at the Leopold Museum, and at all future displays of the Painting of any kind that the Leopold Museum authorizes or allows anywhere in the world, that sets forth the true provenance of the Painting, including Lea Bondi Jaray’s prior ownership of the Painting and its theft from her by a Nazi agent before she fled to London in 1939; and
(e) before it is transported to the Leopold Museum in Vienna, the Painting will be publicly exhibited at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in New York, beginning with a ceremony commemorating the legacy of Lea Bondi Jaray and the successful resolution of the lawsuit.

For all of my posts dealing with this dispute, see here

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"The Bulldog" Makes a Case for the Return of the "Getty Bronze"

The “Getty Bronze”

Last weekend at the 2010 ARCA conference, Italian state attorney Maurizio Fiorilli offered his thoughts on the ongoing dispute between Italy and the Getty over the disposition of this  ancient Greek bronze, often called the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth”.  Fiorilli has been nicknamed “Il Bulldog” by the Italian press for his quiet persistence in securing the return of illegally exported and illegally excavated cultural objects from a number of American museums, including a number of objects acquired in recent decades from the Getty. 

One object which the Italians did not secure was this bronze, which is the subject of a seizure proceeding in Italy.  I’ve posted below four videos which find Fiorilli making a reasoned legal case for the return of the bronze.  An Italian court in February ordered the return of this object, however difficulty will arise when Italy attempts to convince a U.S. court to enforce the order.  The Getty has appealed the Italian decision, but the legal proceedings are important not only for the direct result, but for the shift in public perception which the Getty will have to navigate.  Surely the Getty does not relish the idea of a long protracted public debate over the disposition of this bronze.  The story of this bronze presents an interesting case.  Though it was certainly illegally exported from Italy, it cannot be considered a “looted” object in my view. 

The bronze was found by Italian fishermen somewhere in the Adriatic in the 1960’s.  I wrote a long summary of the story of the bronze back in 2007.  To summarize, the statue was found by fisherman in the Adriatic in 1964, smuggled out of Italy, and eventually purchased by the Getty in 1977.  The bronze was discussed a great deal in the very public battle between Italy and the Getty over other looted objects in recent years.  Yet there was a lack of direct evidence linking the Getty to any wrongdoing in the acquisition.  Criminal proceedings were brought against some of the fishermen and handlers of the statue in Italy in 1968.  Left with little concrete evidence to secure a conviction, the fishermen were acquitted.  Yet as Fiorilli argued, these proceedings were made difficult because the actual statue had been smuggled abroad, and Italian prosecutors were unable to meet their burden. 

I’ll let Fiorilli make his case in the videos below, and apologies for the low sound levels.  Fiorilli spoke beautiful English, but chose to make his case in Italian, with the help of a translator. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Footnotes

“Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino”, by JMW Turner was purchased by the Getty recently for $44.9 million in London.  Will the UK match the purchase price and prohibit export?

Lots of developments in the news while I was teaching in Italy, here are a few of the high points:

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Italian Carabinieri Announce Operation "Andromeda"

Italian authorities today from the Carabinieri Art and Antiquities squad held a press conference at the Colosseum in Rome to announce the return of 337 antiquities, worth an estimated 15 million euros.  They had been seized from a Japanese antiquities dealer in Switzerland in 2008.  In 2008 Italy and Switzerland entered into a bilateral agreement which allowed for cooperation on antiquities investigations, perhaps this seizure is a product of that arrangement  David Gill points to images and a press release by the Carabinieri.  He notes “It appears that this is part of a major investigation into the assets of London-based dealer Robin Symes”. Among the objects returned are pieces of Greek pottery, frescoes, bronzes statues, and marble sculptures.  General Giovanni Nistri noted today, “We could make 10 museums abroad with what we’ve brought back”. 

  1. Andrew Davis, Italy Repatriates EU15 Million of Antiquities From Switzerland – Bloomberg, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-07-16/italy-repatriates-eu15-million-of-looted-antiquities-found-in-switzerland.html (last visited Jul 16, 2010).

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com