March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor and the Van Gogh Painting

Vincent Van Gogh's "View of the Asylum and Church at Saint-Remy/Sage Recovery
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor

Elizabeth Taylor, actress, film star and the founder of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, was also the owner of an 1889 painting by Vincent van Gogh, "View of the Asylum and Church at Saint-Remy", she had to assert legal ownership of in 2007 when the descendants of the former owners claimed that the painting had been stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

According to media reports here and here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco affirmed Taylor's ownership of the painting that her father had purchased for her at Sotheby's in 1963. The heirs of the former owners had waited until 2004 to claim that the painting had been stolen although it had not been listed in any database for stolen or Holocaust-looted art database.  I was wondering about this case this morning so I made unofficial inquiries through my experts on Holocaust looted art to get their opinion: although the strict interpretation of Military Law 59 'any transaction is null and void between 1933 and 1945 and the onus is on the good faith purchaser to demonstrate his or her good faith' but that conditions around the sale of the painting may not have constituted a forced sale.  For me, this is the importance of using the courts to settle these disputes.

The photo for this painting was obtained from the website for Sage Recovery, which helps to recover objects looted during the Nazi era.  Their review of the case can be found here.