Art law in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

20625578Design and proportion are the things that stand out in any Wes Anderson film. But in his new film it is Art with a capital ‘A’ that stands out. Art is the looming plot engine in Anderson’s excellent new film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. The film travels back in time through a series of flashbacks, starting first in 1985 at the grave of a writer who had visited the hotel, then to 1968 when that author dined with the Hotel’s owner, Zero Mustafa. And then finally the film flashes all the way back to the 1930s when Zero was a protégé of Mr. Gustave H. (played by Ralph Fiennes). Many critics have pointed out the whimsical nature of much of the film, how it carries us to a simpler time before the horrors of the Second World War and the holocaust. A prison scene with Fiennes and his jailmates using a “throatslitter” to divide sweets made me laugh out loud, and also a little queasy.

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India requesting quick return of the looted Dancing Shiva

The 900-year-old dancing Shiva statue was removed from display
The 900-year-old dancing Shiva statue was removed from display

The case of the looted Dancing Shiva statue has evolved very quickly. Andrew Sayers, the director of the National Gallery of Australia has resigned. And now the Indian government wants the looted material returned:

The Indian government formally requested the return of a 900-year-old Dancing Shiva statue from the National Gallery of Australia and a stone sculpture of the god Ardhanarishvara from the Art Gallery of NSW last week.

The Attorney-General’s Department issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the Art Gallery of NSW had “voluntarily removed” its sculpture from public display – one day after it was announced the National Gallery would remove its allegedly looted statue from exhibition.

Both artefacts were bought from antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is on trial in India for looting and wanted in the United States for allegedly masterminding a large-scale antiquities smuggling operation.

A first secretary of India’s High Commission, Tarun Kumar, said it was “our expectation” both statues would be returned to India. “We expect a decision in that regard will be taken within the next month,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General’s Department said on Wednesday that there was no time limit in the legislation for responding to the Indian government’s request.

The Canberra-based National Gallery paid $US5 million for the Dancing Shiva statue in February 2008. The statue was one of 22 items it bought from Mr Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery for a total of $11 million between 2002 and 2011.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/india-wants-looting-scandal-statues-including-dancing-shiva-returned-in-30-days-20140327-35lhn.html#ixzz2xHHhXu4p

I have resigned from ARCA

downloadI have had five wonderful years serving ARCA (the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art), but in any professional endeavor, there comes a time to leave. For me that time is now. I have made the decision to resign due to differences regarding the management of the organization. Though I respect much of the work ARCA has done; share its passion for exposing heritage crime; and understand the struggles of small non-profits; as an advocate who urges transparency on the part of museums and auction houses, I must part ways when my concerns have not been addressed.

Cornelius Gurlitt to return art to their original owners

Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge", which according to the BBC has not been seen in 75 years
Claude Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge”, which according to the BBC has not been seen in 75 years

Back in November, Germany’s Focus magazine reported that German tax officials had discovered a trove of hundreds of works of art by Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, Renoir and others. They were found in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art dealer during the Nazi-era named Hildebrand Gurlitt. Well now it seems the inevitable decision has been made by Gurlitt to return the works of art to rightful owners. This seemed the inevitable result, it was just a matter of whether court action would be necessary to compel the return of many of these objects. And it may still, but for now Gurlitt appears to be making fast efforts to settle claims over these works.

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Gurlitt’s lawyers are in talks to return “Seated Woman/Woman Sitting in Armchair” to the descendants of Paul Rosenberg, a French art dealer whose family recognized the work when it was made public last year.

“The agreement is not yet signed, but it will certainly happen,” Mr. Gurlitt’s spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, said.

Christoph Edel, a lawyer appointed by a Munich court to handle Mr. Gurlitt’s health, financial and legal affairs, told the German broadcaster ARD that more deals were coming. Mr. Gurlitt, 81, who has heart problems, underwent surgery recently and has been slow to recover, leading the court to appoint a legal guardian.

But it is also true that the amount of art Gurlitt has in his possession keeps growing larger. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

In February, another 60 works of art were found in a house in Salzburg, Austria. A preliminary assessment has found no evidence that the pieces in Austria were stolen or looted by the Nazis, Holzinger said at the time.

The Salzburg portion of Gurlitt’s collection is bigger than was initially apparent and contains 238 art objects, including 39 oil paintings, according to the statement released by Holzinger yesterday.

Of the 39 paintings, seven are attributed landscape painter Louis Gurlitt, who died in 1897 and was the grandfather of Cornelius Gurlitt. Among the other paintings and watercolors are works by Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Eduard Manet, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissaro, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Max Liebermann, Paul Cezanne and Emile Nolde, according to the statement.

Stephen Evans for the BBC has a video with access to the undisclosed location where much of this art is being stored.

A portion of the Sevso Treasure going back to Hungary

An image of the Sevso treasure from 1990 in anticipation of sale
An image of the Sevso treasure from 1990 in anticipation of sale

I’ve been alerted by Alex Herman of the Institute of Art & Law that the Sevso Treasure looks finally to be going back to Hungary after over 25 years of negotiations and suits. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced today that Hungary had “reacquired” seven pieces of the Sevso Treasure for €15 million. The objects will be put on public display in Budapest from March 29th.

This remarkable collection of Roman-era silver was perhaps discovered near Lake Balaton on the outskirts of a town named Polgárdi. The collection made it to the art markets in 1980 and the Marquess of Northampton purchased 14 of the pieces. These objects have gone on display irregularly, in efforts to gauge their marketability. In 1983 a portion of the objects was offered for sale to the Getty, but because of the concerns of Arthur Houghton over the export permits offered with the objects, the sale fell through.

The Unveiling of the treasures in Hungary on Wednesday
The Unveiling of the treasures in Hungary on Wednesday

One of the difficulties with using the courts to resolve the dispute over this Silver has been the fact that their origin remains uncertain. Though perhaps Roman in origin, Lebanon, Croatia, and Hungary have all made claims. There was a lengthy series of legal proceedings some years ago—after a 7 week trial in 1993 in the New York Supreme Court (the court of general jurisdiction in New York) a jury found that neither Croatia nor Hungary had established a valid claim over the treasure, and the Marquess of Northampton retained ownership.

These objects are what can be classified as “Orphan objects” in that they have been so removed from their context that their findspot and origins are difficult to determine. One thing the look out for as more details of this reacquisition emerge will the answer to the question of why Hungary only purchased 7 of the objects. Will Croatia buy the remainder? Will Lord Northampton have Hungary’s blessing that legal claims will not be brought against the other objects should they go up for sale? Will Hungary move to acquire the other objects?

  1. Republic of Croatia et al. v. Tr. of the Marquess of Northampton 1987 settlement, 203 A.D. 2d 167 (N.Y. App. Div. 1994).
  2. Anne Laure Bandle, Raphael Contel, Marc-André Renold, “Case Sevso Treasure – Republic of Lebanon et al. v. Marquess of Northampton,” Art-Law Centre – University of Geneva.

Repatriation by popular referendum

John Constable's "Dedham from Langham"
John Constable’s “Dedham from Langham”

Doreen Carvajal reports for the New York Times on a novel effort by Alain Monteagle to recover this work of art seized from his family in France during World War II. Monteagle is attempting to gather enough signatures to force a referendum:

So Mr. Monteagle and his relatives have taken to the soapbox. They are using the local Swiss system of popular referendums — which require the signatures of at least 10 percent of registered voters, 2,500 in this case — to  bring the issue before elected officials, since the museum is owned by the town. And they are taking the early, tentative steps required to force the local legislature to put an issue to a vote; if the legislature were to approve, more signatures could be gathered for a communitywide vote.

A referendum is it seems the only legal avenue remaining for Monteagle, as the Swiss Museum claims to have acquired the work by donation in 1986:

The Constable painting, “Dedham From Langham,” a 19th-century landscape of the English countryside, was seized in Nice, France, in 1943, along with all the valuables of Mr. Monteagle’s great-aunt, Anna Jaffé, a childless British expatriate and wealthy Jewish art collector who had died a year earlier. Her French heir, a nephew who was Mr. Monteagle’s grandfather, died in Auschwitz.

The pro-Nazi Vichy government of France organized an auction in Nice, unloading everything from silver sugar pots and tapestries to paintings by Turner and Tenier.

Ultimately, the Constable painting passed among three new owners during the war and was purchased by a Geneva gallery, which sold it in 1946 to René Junod. He was an art collector and Swiss businessman who, with his wife, left a collection of 30 paintings to the museum here in 1986, along with money for renovation and expansion.

Whether Mr. Monteagle’s effort will be successful or not remains to be seen. But his cause may certainly receive a boost from the high-profile article.

  1. Doreen Carvajal, Wooing the Public to Recover Art, The New York Times, March 18, 2014.

2014 Study Abroad Law Program at the Tulane-Siena Institute

Siena campo and landscape

I’ve been forwarded on a notice that DePaul has partnered with Tulane Law School and the Università di Siena for the 2014 Summer Study Abroad Program. The Program runs from June 3 – 27th. It should be primarily of interest to lawyers and law students, as it offers CLEs for current attorneys and ABA accreditation for law students. I’ve had former students who have really enjoyed their time on this program, and of course Siena is terrific. From the announcement:

This program offers students the unique opportunity to study the complex relationship between international law, art and cultural heritage. It provides students with the only opportunity in the world to study in depth the relationship between international law and art itself, as both physical and intellectual property. Lectures are supplemented extensively with field trips, presentations by guest speakers, and visits to museums, private collections, and looted sites. Additionally, after finishing the academic component, interested students will then have the opportunity to put their new knowledge to use, working on the ground in either the U.S. or Southeast Asia. In response to the looting of archaeological sites, the Kingdom of Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts is launching a department to study and combat the illicit antiquities trade. Thanks to a partnership with Tulane Law School, selected interns will have an unprecedented opportunity to become involved in this exciting work. They will travel to the capital of Phnom Penh, where they will work alongside Cambodian and international colleagues, assisting the government in one of its most crucial efforts. Internships are also available working with the Holocaust Art Restitution Project in either New York or Washington, DC. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis until the program is full. For more information, please visit http://www.law.tulane.edu/tlsabroad/Siena.aspx.