This article is thshutterstock_35931382e second in a five-part series discussing the restitution, repatriation, and return of cultural objects. Each part addresses a different category of return. The first article in the series available here, addressed the restitution of stolen cultural objects. This article is the continuation of Part 1 and discusses developments in the restitution of cultural objects taken during World War II. The remaining articles address: (1) the restitution of illicitly excavated and/or illicitly exported cultural objects, (2) repatriation of tribal and indigenous cultural objects, and (3) the return of cultural objects removed during colonial occupation.

Museums’ Use of Technical Defenses: Von Saher and Beyond

The question of museums waiving defenses, as the AAM Standards suggest, has emerged as an important point of conflict in Nazi-era restitution cases. In a few instances, museums have filed quiet title actions against restitution claimants, asking courts to issue declaratory judgments that the museums have good title to the objects and/or the claimants’ rights have been lost due to statutes of limitations or laches. [See, e.g., Toledo Museum of Art v. Ullin, 477 F. Supp. 2d 802 (N.D. Ohio 2006); Detroit Inst. of Arts v. Ullin, No. 06-10333, 2007 WL 1016996, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 31, 2007); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston v. Seger-Thomschitz, Case No. 08-10097-RWZ, 2009 WL 6506658 (D. Mass. June 12, 2009); Museum of Fine Art v. Schoeps, 549 F.Supp.2d 543 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).] Such cases remain rare, and are controversial. [See, e.g., Grosz v. Museum of Modern Art, 772 F.Supp.2d 473 (S.D.N.Y. 2010); Simon J. Frankel and Ethan Forrest, “Museums’ Initiation of Declaratory Judgment Actions and Assertion of Statutes of Limitations in Response to Nazi-Era Restitution Claims – A Defense,” 23 DePaul J. Art, Tech. & Intell. Prop. L. 279, 281 (2013).] However, museums asserting statutes of limitations and laches defenses – what have become known as “technical defenses” – rather than allowing cases to be decided solely on the merits is not less controversial. [1]


Continue Reading The Restitution, Repatriation, and Return of Cultural Objects: Restitution of Cultural Objects Taken During World War II (Part II)

shutterstock_249573721This article is the second in a five-part series discussing the restitution, repatriation, and return of cultural objects.  Each part addresses a different category of return.  The first article, available here, addressed the restitution of stolen cultural objects.  This article discusses developments in the restitution of cultural objects taken during World War II.  The remaining articles address: (1) the restitution of illicitly excavated and/or illicitly exported cultural objects, (2) repatriation of tribal and indigenous cultural objects, and (3) the return of cultural objects removed during colonial occupation.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, some of the most important developments in the restitution of cultural objects and other assets confiscated in the period surrounding World War II have occurred only within the last decade or so.  Some restitution was done, of course, at the conclusion of the war.  The cultural objects that the Allied forces recovered were returned to the countries from whose citizens or museums they had been taken (in a process known as “external restitution”), for those countries to then return to their owners (“internal restitution”).  However, those actions were complicated by the loss of people, records, communities, and communal memory.  They were also complicated, prevented, or delayed by the resistance of governments and legal systems to adequately address the question of restitution, as well as a variety of political complications, not least of which was the Cold War, which locked people, cultural objects, and information behind the Iron Curtain.  It took a combination of the end of Communism (with the unlocking of museums and archives in the former Soviet territories), the publication of pioneering studies of Nazi-era looting, and the persistent efforts of organizations like the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Congress to raise public awareness of the continuing problem of restitution.  The statements of principles, statements of ethics, settlements, and court decisions have produced (and continue to produce) a profound change in the art trade and museum practice with respect to the understanding and treatment of confiscated and duress sale cultural objects.  These efforts have produced an on-going reassessment of the question of restitution, whose effects will be felt in many other restitution contexts as well.


Continue Reading The Restitution, Repatriation, and Return of Cultural Objects: Restitution of Cultural Objects Taken During World War II (Part I)

An important and frequeshutterstock_107820275ntly misunderstood development in the law of art and cultural property in recent decades has been the elaboration in national laws, international instruments, and customary international law of the rights of individuals, groups, nations or other entities to obtain the return of cultural objects that were taken from them, their ancestors or predecessor, or their territory at some point in the past. I have previously discussed differing views on the repatriation of certain types of cultural property and the discussion is available here. This article is the first in a five-part series discussing restitution, repatriation, and return of cultural objects.  Each part addresses a different category of return: (1) restitution of stolen cultural objects, (2) restitution of cultural objects taken during World War II, (3) restitution of illicitly excavated and/or illicitly exported cultural objects, (4) repatriation of tribal and indigenous cultural objects, and (5) the return of cultural objects removed during colonial occupation.

Continue Reading The Restitution, Repatriation, and Return of Cultural Objects: When Objects Go Back

More than seven years is a long time to wait for a loaned painting to be returned. But after such a long wait, Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna and Child (1485) is being returned to its owner, Kraken Investments Limited (Kraken).   Kraken had consigned the painting to a gallery for sale, but the gallery’s bankruptcy intervened. For a time, it seemed that the painting would never be returned to Kraken, and that instead the gallery’s lender’s security interest would take priority, leaving Kraken within only an unsecured claim in the bankruptcy case. That dispute has only recently been resolved, with a reversal giving the Botticelli back to Kraken. [See Kraken Investments Ltd. v. Jacobs (In re Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, LLC), Case No. 14-cv-03544 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 25, 2014)] It has been, for many, a cautionary tale.

Recent years have seen the collapse of several major art galleries, some from financial conflicts with lenders or other parties, other from shady business practices and outright fraud. Perhaps the most spectacular was the collapse of Salander O’Reilly Galleries, LLC (SOG). In 2007, SOG was facing numerous lawsuits alleging that SOG and its founder and principal Larry Salander (Salander) had double-pledged works, and had sold others but failed to pay their consignors the proceeds from the sales. Several of SOG’s creditors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against the gallery in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (the Bankruptcy Court), which was subsequently converted to a voluntary petition under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. At the time of the bankruptcy petition, SOG possessed more than 4,000 artworks, some of which it owned (in whole or in part), but many were not owned by SOG, and had been consigned to SOG by artists, artists’ estates, collectors, or other dealers. SOG’s victims included Earl Davis, who consigned more than 90 of his father, Earl Davis’s paintings (Davis v. Carroll) , Robert De Niro, Jr., who consigned 12 of his father, Robert De Niro, Sr.’s paintings, and John McEnroe, who had entered into a joint-ownership arrangement with Salander to acquire two paintings by Arshile Gorky, only to find himself a victim of double-dealing. The fall of SOG presents, in microcosm, almost every possible way in which a secured transaction, consignment or entrustment of art or cultural property can go awry, and it spurred amendments to the art consignment provisions of New York’s Art and Cultural Affairs Law. [1]


Continue Reading Botticelli’s ‘Madonna and Child’: The Risks of Art Consignment

The Third Reich’s policy of seizing works of art to build the collection of a planned Fuhrermuseum to be constructed in Linz, Austria, or (for the modern works the regime deemed “entartete Kunst” (degenerate art)) is, by now, well-known. The Rape of Europa (Lynn H. Nicholas, 1994), The Lost Museum (Hector Feliciano, 1995), and The Monuments Men (Robert M. Edsel, 2009) have given detailed accounts of Nazi art looting for a popular audience.

Although the Nazis formal cultural plunder program carried out by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (the ERR), was not established until 1940, forced sales and outright theft of works began much earlier. “Forced sales” are transactions in which works were “purchased” from their owners for a fraction of their market price (or for no payment) in circumstances where the owners, frequently but not exclusively Jews, were desperate to secure exit visas or to raise funds for travel costs to escape Nazi-controlled territories. At times such forced sales were given the formal appearance of licit transactions. Before the war’s end, the Allies and the governments-in-exile issued the London Declaration, invalidating “any transfers of, or dealings with, property, rights and interests of any description whatsoever which are, or have been, situated in the territories which have come under the occupation or control” of the Axis power. The policy articulated in the London Declaration applied “whether such transfers of dealings have taken the form of open looting or plunder, or of transactions apparently legal in form, even when they purport to be voluntarily effected.”     
Continue Reading Nazi-Looted Art: Cornelius Gurlitt and Toren v. Federal Republic of Germany and Free State of Bavaria