Perhaps most challenging, are asset searches and / or investigations seeking to uncover Nazi-looted art. Such searches can ultimately end up in the filing of a Holocaust-related art restitution case. As suggested at the article "Thousands of Nazi-Looted Works Are Held by Museums, Survey Says", lawyers, auction houses, genealogists and art detectives, may all have roles in these cases. Even with all of the foregoing, parties to a Holocaust-related art restitution case still face a difficult litigation.
The Plaintiff in Bakalar v. Vavra, Index No. 05-CV-3037 (S.D.N.Y.) for example, essentially claimed that he had purchased Egon Schiele’s drawing "Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso)", in good faith. According to Plaintiff, the Schiele drawing once belonged to Austrian-Jewish entertainer Fritz Grunbaum. Fritz Grunbaum’s sister-in-law Mathilde Lukacs, had supposedly sold the drawing in 1956 to art dealer Eberhard Kornfeld at Galerie Gutekunst & Klipstein. That very same year, Galerie Gutekunst & Klipstein next sold it to New York’s Galerie St. Etienne— where it was finally purchased by Plaintiff in 1963. Stated differently, Plaintiff argued that the Schiele drawing was lawfully purchased and had never been stolen by the Nazis.
Defendants contrarily argued that the drawing was Nazi-looted art which had been ransacked from the Vienna art collection of their long-deceased relative, Fritz Grunbaum. Defendants specifically alleged that Eberhard Kornfeld had never acquired the Schiele drawing from Mathilde Luckas and that they were therefore entitled to contest its provenance. Defendants made these and many other arguments in their closing statement, which they presented via PowerPoint at trial. The Court’s September 2, 2008 Opinion and Order however, ruled against Defendants’ art restitution claim by concluding that Plaintiff held lawful title to the Schiele drawing.
Copyright 2008 Fred L. Abrams