In today’s New York Times, another article on how the art market is booming. One of the reasons has been the recent repatriation of art looted by the Nazis in World War II. I discussed the Klimt’s earlier this week, but there are also works by Kirchner, Vuillard and Picasso.
This remains an interesting issue. When courts and commentators speak of repatriation, it is often done so in terms of how these pieces of art have been taken during the war, and how they should be returned to the heirs of the original owners. An unacknowledged issue though, is how valuable these works are. There value can be so high, that its simply not economically feasible for the current claimants to hold on to them, and they end up auctioning them. Perhaps instead of simply awarding title to the paintings, courts may want to fashion compromises. They could agree to a fractional ownership scheme, allowing a claimant to hold on to the work for a certain part of the year for example. Or they could agree to a one-time payoff. In the United States, replevin actions are the primary mechanism which claimants use to seek the return of works of art. However, ownership disputes spanning 60 years are not always easily solved by awarding title to one party or another. A better solution may be a compromise between the parties.