Category Archives: Nazi plunder

It’s About Time: Heirs Challenge MoMA’s Right to Hold Nazi-Era Paintings

On August 23, 2011, Patricia Cohen of The New York Times examined a restitution claim brought against MoMA by the heirs of George Grosz, an Expressionist painter who fled Nazi Germany in 1933. (“Family’s Claim Against MoMA Hinges on Dates”) Grosz was not Jewish but faced persecution by the regime for his opposition to Hitler and the “degenerate” style of his paintings. He left three of his paintings in the care of his Jewish dealer, Alfred Flechtheim, who in turn fled Germany when the Third Reich Aryanized Jewish businesses.  It remains unclear whether Flechtheim sold the Grosz paintings or they were stolen from  but by the early 1950s, MoMA had purchased all three of them.

MoMA has won several lower court decisions in the case, arguing that the Grosz heirs filed the lawsuit too late under New York State law. The U.S. Supreme court will decide whether to hear the case next month.

MoMA’s determination to hold the Grosz paintings violates the International Council of Museums (ICOM) code of ethics, and international agreements supported by the U.S. government to faciliate restitution of looted and misappropriated Nazi-era art.  But agreements like the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art  merely declare noble intentions; they are non-binding, without the force of law.

Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, wrote a creative, imagined conversation with Cohen about this issue, clarifying several points from her article and making the case against MoMA’s position. See his blog post here.  (in archives after August 2011)

MoMA could learn from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which earlier this year initiated a settlement with the heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer to retain four tapestries that were part of a forced sale in Berlin in 1935.  It’s about time, MoMA.

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Wildenstein Legal Woes

The Wildenstein family once again is embroiled in litigation. The New York Times reported on April 19, 2011 that French authorities summoned Guy Wildenstein for questioning in Paris by antifraud investigators.  During a search of the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, French police investigators seized a cache of 30 artworks, some of which had been reported stolen or missing by victims of Nazi looting and their heirs.

The raid of Institute stemmed from a lawsuit filed against Wildenstein by his step-mother, Sylvia Roth Wildenstein, who accused him of money laundering and tax evasion.  She died last November, but another widow, that of Guy’s brother Alec, also has filed a suit against Guy for breach of trust.

The proliferation of lawsuits against Guy Wildenstein further taints the name of a once respected art dealing family.

See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/20/arts/design/wildenstein-art-gallery-is-beset-by-lawsuits.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=wildenstein&st=cse (accessed April 27, 2011)

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