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

Earlier this year, in response to concerns that poaching of African elephants is rapidly driving the species to extinction, the U.S. federal government tightened restrictions on the import, export, transfer, and sale of African elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn.[1] The revised restrictions followed on President Obama’s July 2013 executive order committing the U.S. to increase its efforts to halt wildlife trafficking. As reported by the Wildlife Conservation Center, “[t]here were an estimated 1.2 million African elephants in 1980, but now the population is down to less than 420,000. . . . For forest elephants, a separate species from the savannah elephant, the news is worse. Ten percent of the population was killed in 2012, and another 10 percent in 2013. . . . With fewer than 100,000 left, extinction could be only 10 years away.” Wildlife conservationists argue that a complete ban on the sale of ivory is necessary, and is the only way to stop poaching of elephants. Some have suggested that a complete ban on ivory actually facilitates further looting and an illicit ivory market, and have urged the creation of a limited, regulated, licit market in ivory

The new rule’s most controversial change has been its limitation of the antique exception to the general ban on ivory, which previously allowed commercial and non-commercial import, export, transfer and sale of objects at least 100 years old that were either made of ivory or included ivory elements. The original version of the amended rule that was announced in February eliminated the antiques exception in all commercial contexts and substantially limited it in non-commercial contexts. New York and New Jersey have similarly tightened their existing restrictions on the trade in and transfer of ivory. California, Maine, and Hawaii are expected to follow suit
Continue Reading Collateral Damage: Ivory Ban’s Effects on Collectors, Museums, Musicians, and the Art Trade

In the press and in popular culture, art theft and art forgery tend to be linked, and are often glamorized to a greater or lesser extent.1 The reality, however, is usually far more mundane, if not outright seedy (although efforts at recovery often have admirable, even >heroic overtones). In recent years, there have been several highly-publicized instances of forgery, including the sales of fake works by modern masters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock that brought down the eminent Knoedler Gallery, and the extraordinarily successful fakes of the German painter Wolfgang Beltracchi, who after his fraud was disclosed, became the subject of many press articles, newscasts, and even a documentary, “Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery” (2014).

Unlike art thieves, however, art forgers and art fakers sometimes go on to a secondary career as fake-artists in their own right, enjoying a kind of glamorous notoriety, as Beltracchi has done. But Beltracchi is not alone in this. John Myatt now sells his “legitimate fakes,” Others have included Elmyr de Hory, Eric Hebborn, whose posthumous reputation as a master forger resulted in a recent auction of a number of his drawings in the style of old masters, and Mark Landis, who, somewhat uniquely, donated his faked works to museums. Perhaps the most famous forger was Hans van Meegeran, who forged Vermeers in pre-war Germany, selling one to Hermann Goering. Fakes and forgeries are even not infrequently the subject of exhibitions highlighting the forger’s own art. Some commentators have even suggested that fakes may be “the great art of our age.”     
Continue Reading Authenticity, Fakes and Forgeries

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