Showing posts with label Altman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Altman. Show all posts

March 30, 2012

Senate Bill 2212: Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act Aims to Prevent Seizures of Nazi-era Looted Paintings on Loan to American Museums

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor-in-Chief

The proposed Senate Bill S. 2212, the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional, is the biggest threat to date of making legal claims for stolen art, according to Marc Masurovsky, a Washington, DC-based historian and a former researcher director for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust-era Assets.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (1992-2012), a Democrat from California, who introduced the bill on March 20th to "clarify the exception to foreign sovereign immunity set forth in section 1605 (a)(3) title 28, United States code.

"S. 2212 will immunize most looted art coming into the United States," Masurovsky wrote on a message on Facebook.

According to, the bill is in the first stage of the legislative process:  "Most bills and resolutions are assigned to committees which consider them before they move to the House or Senate as a whole ... The sponsor [Feinstein] is a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where the bill has been referred." The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah), another member of the senate's judiciary committee. also identifies this bill as related to another in the House of Representatives: H. R. 4086 of the same name.

"The backers of these two bills have asked Jewish groups, claimants and other interested parties, to make a choice: by opting for a limited category of art objects to be claimed in US courts that would come in from abroad for "cultural display," Masurovsky wrote in an email.  "They will allow all other looted art objects to enter the US without any possible legal recourse to seek restitution of those objects in a US court of law."

According to the bill submitted by Feinstein and Hatch:
If a work is imported into the United States from any foreign country pursuant to an agreement providing for the temporary exhibition or display of such work entered into between a foreign state that is the owner or custodian of such work and the United States or 1 or more cultural education institutions within the United States;
Last November, a Florida U. S. Attorney seized a 16th century painting (Girolamo Romano's Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue (1538) from the permanent collection of Italy's Pinacoteca di Brera in Milano loaned for an exhibit at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee. In February, a U. S. judge ordered the painting to be returned to the heirs of Frederico Gentili di Giuseppe, an Italian Jew who died in Paris before the Nazis invaded France.

"The case in Tallahassee could never have occurred had the bill been passed last year," Masurovsky explains.  "The question remains also whether Wally could have been made possible had the bill existed in 1997 as well as the Altman v. Republic of Austria and all of the Max Stern Estate seizures in the US."

The bill distinguishes that the artworks is a cultural object and not to be considered to be a commercial activity.  "NAZI-ERA CLAIMS. -- Paragraph (1) shall not apply in any case in which -- (A) the action is based upon a claim that the work was taken in Europe in violation of international law by a covered government during the covered period; (B) the court determines that the activity associated with the exhibition or display is commercial activity; and (C) a determination under subparagraph (B) is necessary for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the foreign state under subsection (a)(3)."

The "covered government" involves the Nazi's Third Reich regime and the "covered period" is specified as January 30, 1933, through May 8, 1945."

This S.2212 aims to prevent seizures such as the one in the Florida case above.

The ARCA blog asked Ori Z. Soltes, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, for a comment:
"I have three basic comments: the first is to acknowledge that the intention on the part of Feinstein and Hatch comes from the right emotional place and even to laud their intention, but to suggest that they are simply being misguided; to wit (and here is my second comment, which is essentially to repeat virtually what Marc has said with regard to the danger of so narrowing the focus on Nazi-plundered art): that the result is to make the coming of all other kinds of plundered art into the United States immune not just from seizure, but from being recognized as plundered; the effect for archaeological artifacts in particular is potentially disastrous. 
"My third comment, related to the second, is that the narrowing of focus that the bill proposes adds another aspect of looking at the Holocaust as an event specifically Jewish or specifically European or specifically whatever, which enables people to ignore the larger issue, the human issue, of which it is part, and which "largeness" is evidenced by the depressing number of Holocaust-like events to which one can point across the planet both before and after World War II -- which is analogous to the broad range of culture plunder both before and after. If, with all of its unique aspects (of which are plenty) we simply view it as an aberration, we no longer have to ask as many questions about ourselves, we no longer have to think as much--and that is a profound danger particularly to the American people, with ramifications beyond this issue."

Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue/FCN

July 21, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011 - ,, No comments

Judge Arthur Tompkins on Gustav Klimt's "The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer"

by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The luminous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer now hangs in the Neue Galerie, on New York’s Fifth Avenue. How it got there is quite a story.

The dispute over this portrait, together with others owned originally by Ferdinand Bloch and his wife Adele Bloch-Bauer, and in keeping with many similar private law restitutionary struggles, was resolved only after a long, tortuous, expensive and emotionally draining process. It involved, over many decades, the Austrian national courts, the United States courts all the way to the United States’ Supreme Court, and finally an Arbitration Panel agreed to by both sides. Some 65 years passed between the unlawful passing of the painting to the Austrian National Gallery in 1941 and the return of the paintings to Maria Altmann in early 2006.

Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was, before World War II, a wealthy Czech industrialist, and president of the Österreichische Zuckerindustrie AG, a major sugar company. He commissioned a portrait of his wife from Gustav Klimt, and after about a year’s work, the golden, shimmery portrait was delivered in 1907. Adele died in 1925, from meningitis, and in her will, “requested” Ferdinand to leave the Klimt paintings the couple owned to the Austrian National Gallery.

Ferdinand fled Austria in 1938, and the invading Nazis confiscated both his businesses and the Bloch-Bauer’s home, containing the portrait and the other Klimt paintings. They assessed spurious “taxes” as being owed, thus triggering liquidation of the assets. An attorney was appointed, and unlawfully he sold or swapped the paintings, with three, including the Portrait, ending up with the Austrian Gallery.

Ferdinand died in Switzerland in 1945, and, understandably, by his will he did not leave the Klimt portraits to the Gallery. Two nieces and a nephew, including Maria Altmann who by that time was living in the Los Angeles, were his heirs. His estate consisted mainly of claims to seized property.

The Case Summary prepared for the later Arbitral proceedings recorded:
In January 1948, the heirs’ attorney, Dr. Gustav Rinesch, attempted to recover some of the Klimt paintings from the Austrian Gallery. The Austrian Gallery responded by taking the position that the paintings were donated by Adele Bloch-Bauer in her will of 1923, which designated her husband as her universal heir and requested that he donate six Klimt paintings to the Austrian Gallery after his death.
However, according to the legal proceedings which followed Adele’s death in 1925, Ferdinand stated that the paintings were his, and not his wife’s, property and that he was not legally obligated to fulfill the wishes expressed in her will, although he allegedly promised to do so.

Despite efforts by and on behalf of the heirs over the years, the three paintings, by now held by the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, remained there through until the late 1990s, and as Simon Houpt notes,
“ ... became synonymous with Viennese culture and Austrian pride, especially Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which has been reprinted endlessly on T-shirts, postcards, and dormitory room posters. It seemed fruitless to Maria Altmann [Ferdinand’s niece] and the other Bloch-Bauer heirs to put up a fight.”
But the legal landscape changed in 1998. The Austrian Parliament passed legislation,
“ ... requiring all federal museums to ensure their holdings were free of art illegally seized during the war.”
As a resident of California, and frustrated by procedural and technical delays and obstacles which had stalled her Austrian legal proceedings, Altmann sued in the US Courts, and ultimately, the Supreme Court held that she was not barred from suing the Austria by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. However, the case did not proceed to trial in the US as in May 2005 the family and Austria agreed to arbitration in Austria.

Thus the case came to be decided before an Austrian arbitral tribunal, governed by Austrian law and procedure. The Tribunal concluded:
1. The Republic of Austria acquired ownership of the paintings by Gustav
Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, Apfelbaum,
Buchenwald/Birkenwald, and Häuser in Unterach am Attersee by virtue of
the settlement with the representative of the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer,
Dr. Gustav Rinesch, in 1948. 
2. The conditions of the Federal Act Regarding the Restitution of Artworks
from Austrian Federal Museums and Collections dated 4th December 1998,
... for the return of the five paintings indicated above without remuneration to the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer are fulfilled.
The Tribunal accepted that Adele’s will, by which she left the paintings to her husband, with a wish that after his death, they be left to the Austrian nation, was a non-binding request :
“I ask my husband after his death to leave my two portraits and the four landscapes by Gustav Klimt to the Austrian State Gallery in Vienna and to leave the Vienna and Jungfer, Brezan library, which belongs to me, to the People’s and Workers’ Library of Vienna."
Therefore, Austria could not have acquired title to the paintings via her will. Title was not acquired through other available means, and given that the requirements of the Austrian statute were fulfilled, the paintings should be, and were, returned.

Although the ruling was initially greeted with some concern as to its narrowness of application, it was subsequently viewed:
“ ... as a pivotal Holocaust reparations case, ... Having litigated all the way to the Supreme Court prior to arbitration, Altmann established the United States civil litigation system as an acceptable platform for Nazi looted-art cases.”
Left, Neue Galerie director Renee Price.
 Seated, Maria Altmann,
Adele Bloch-Bauer's niece.
"These paintings stolen from Jewish homes are the last prisoners of World War II. I believe more art will be returned to its rightful owners," said art collector and Neue Galerie founder Ronald Lauder, who purchased "Adele Bloch-Bauer II" in June for the museum. 

Maria Altmann sold the Adele Bloch-Bauer I portrait in 2006 to the Neue Galerie Museum in New York, founded by Ronald Lauder and dedicated to German and Austrian Art, and which plays a prominent role in provenance research, including issues relating to “Jewish life and post-Nazi restitution issues.” The portrait is a centre piece of its collection.

The carefully worded provenance statement from the Museum’s website hints at the storied tragedies of the painting’s history:

Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Vienna (Acquired from the artist).
Seized by the Viennese Magistrate (following the Nazi Anschluss, March 1938).
With Dr. Erich Führer, Vienna (the state-appointed administrator for Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer).
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
Restituted to the heirs of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer by the Republic of Austria. Neue Galerie New York.”
The Neue Gallery
The Gallery’s website is at:

February 1, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Contributor Minton on Art Restitution of Nazi-era Looted Art

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Jennifer Ann Minton wrote an article titled “Art Restitution of Nazi-era Looted Art: A Growing Force in Art and Law” for the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime. According to Ms. Minton’s abstract:
“Art restitution is one of the few ways to make reparations to the many victims of the treacheries of World War II. Victims of Nazi-era art theft and their heirs should be able to successfully bring actions in the United States to recovery their possessions as this is usually one of the last options available for recovery. Claims concerning art restitution should be heard in U. S. courts and the statue of limitations and the U. S. Department of State’s Statement of Interest should not be used to preclude adjudication on the merits of these cases. The Court should assert their independence and refuse to dismiss these cases. Recent art restitution settlements and the U. S. Supreme Court’s current involvement shed light onto this topic and help the victims of art theft reclaim what rightfully belongs to them.”
Jennifer Ann Minton is a transplant from Southern California, who decided to make Washington, D. C. her home after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000. She has worked at the White House and various U. S. departments. She received her J. D. from Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.

ARCA blog: How would you explain to a layperson – someone who is only conversationally knowledgeable about art law – whether or not claimants have been successful in European courts in recovery Holocaust-looted art and why the American courts seem to be the answer for so many cases?

Ms. Minton: In 2010 the World Jewish Restitution Organization found that out of many named Eastern European countries including Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the Ukraine, only the Czech Republic and Slovakia had both enacted restitution laws governing art and were conducting provenance research. This is an important point as the former Soviet Union indirectly looted the Jews of their art which was confiscated and collected by the Germans during World War II. In many cases there are no records or unreliable records to prove provenance. With artwork now popping up in the United States with more frequency (whether on the auction block, in a museum or in a private collection) rightful claimants are able seek restitution in the U.S. Courts where the statute of limitations may have run out in European countries. Historically the European courts have sided with those that could prove they acquired looted works in “good faith”. Because of the complication in these legal cases involving issues such as the statute of limitations, international law and provenance determination, I believe you will see a general rise of interest in art law from the public. I first became fascinated by the procedural problems in my International Litigation class at Catholic University of America Law School in Washington, D.C. and continued my research after graduation.

ARCA blog: In your article, you discuss Malevich v. City Amsterdam, the facts of the case stretch back to the 1920s when Malevich was forced to leave an exhibition in Berlin and return to St. Petersburg. When the artist died in 1935, was the art he left behind still unsold? And then it was ‘on loan’ to various friends and institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York until his heirs began suing for recovery of the art after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

Ms. Minton: In 2003, fourteen of Malevich’s works appeared for the first time in the U.S. On loan from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, they were part of an exhibition at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. How did this happen? Malevich became a Master of “Suprematism” in Moscow in 1915. In 1927 the Soviet government demanded he return to St. Petersburg when he was exhibiting his work at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition. The works were left behind with friends and he never returned to Germany, dying in 1935. Little is known how these works were scattered across Europe and then to Canada and the United States except that dozens of pieces were sold by a German architect to the museum in Amsterdam. So, yes, some of the art left behind was sold, at least a portion of it. Where and when these and other looted works will appear is part of the larger story of art restitution and its eventual rise in art law.
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