February 23, 2018

Recovered: "Les Choristes" by Edgar Degas

Image Credit:  INTERPOL Works of Art Database
Stolen from the Musée Cantini in Marseille, France, on Thursday, December 31, 2009, a pastel by 19th century Impressionist painter, Edgar Degas titled "Les Choristes" (also referred to as Les Figurants) has been recovered. 

At the time of the theft, investigators found no apparent signs of a break-in and reported that the 27cm by 32cm pastel had simply been unfastened from the wall where it was being displayed while on loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris for an exhibition showcasing twenty works by the famous artist. 

Hidden in the luggage compartment of a bus in Seine-et-Marne, the artwork was recovered by agents of the Marne-la-Vallée customs brigade on February 16, 2018 during a routine customs check in the area of ​​Ferrieres which borders the A4 motorway. No passengers on board the bus have admitted to placing it there.

 checked a bus stationed on the Ferrières-en-Brie motorway in Seine-et-Marne.
Even as the art work was still undergoing authentication, the official account of the French Customs Info Customs Service felt confident they have a match.

In a public announcement issued today, Françoise Nyssen, the French Minister of Culture, informed the public that the recovered Degas pastel "Les Choristes"  will be given a special place in the future exhibition Degas at the Opera scheduled at the Musée d'Orsay from September 23, 2019 through January 19, 2020.

February 22, 2018

US Supreme Court ruling on the Persepolis fortification texts.

Image Credit:  the Persepolis
Fortification Archive Project
University of Chicago
Bringing an end to a lawsuit brought two decades ago, the United States Supreme Court has ruled 8 to 0 that the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute will retain the Persepolis Fortification Archive on loan from Iran since 1936.  The highest Federal court in the United States, with powers of judicial review, ruled that the objects in dispute cannot be seized to satisfy a $71.5 million court judgment against the government of Iran as compensation for a 1997 shopping mall bombing carried out by Hamas in Israel, which killed five people and wounded nearly 200. 

In 1933 the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute discovered the Persepolis Fortification tablets during excavations.   The ancient objects which make up the archive are believed to be the richest, most consequential source of information about public life religion, art, society and languages dating from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Given their significance, they have been studied by professors and scholars continuously since their discovery.

The Supreme Court judges based their ruling on a determination of what types of assets are immune from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.  Under the FSIA a United States law, codified at Title 28, §§ 1330, 1332, 1391(f), 1441(d), and 1602–1611 of the United States Code, limitations are established as to whether a foreign sovereign nation (or its political subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities) may be sued in U.S. courts—federal or state.

Their ruling can be found here.

For more information on the archive please see the blog by the Persepolis Fortification Archive project based at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago here

February 15, 2018

An appeal that could have a strong legal significance on Holocaust-era claims in the United States

The protracted multi-million dollar lawsuit regarding the 480-year-old paintings of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder at the Norton Simon Museum has lasted more than ten years.  The lawsuit against the museum, began with a quest undertaken by Marei von Saher, the sole surviving heir of the Dutch-Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, who has long sought to recover her father in law’s artworks, looted during the Second World War.   Throughout this lengthy process, Saher, has sought the return of two 500-year-old biblical-themed paintings, appraised at $24 million.  

Jacques Goudstikker was once considered to be the preeminent dealer of Old Master paintings in Amsterdam and is estimated to have amassed an extraordinary collection of some 1400 works of art of the course of his professional career.  When Germany began its assault on Holland on May 10, 1940, Goudstikker knew that his family's time was up. As Rotterdam burned and the Nazi invasion under Reichsmarschall Göring gained speed, Goudstikker, his young wife Désirée von Halban Kurtz, and their infant son Edo boarded the SS Bodegraven, a ship docked at the port city of IJmuiden, departing for England and then on its way to the Americas. 

Unable to transport his collection with him, Goudstikker carried a neatly typed inventory of his property in a black leather notebook.  This notebook detailed artworks by important Dutch and Flemish artists like Jan Mostaert and Jan Steen, as well as works by Peter Paul Rubens, Giotto, Pasqualino Veneziano, Titian, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh and many others.  Unfortunately, in a further tragic twist of fate, Goudstikker lost his life on his journey to safety, breaking his neck in an accidental fall through an uncovered hatch just two days into the ship's voyage.

In less than a week after the German Luftwaffe of the Third Reich crossed into Dutch airspace, Dutch commanding general General Henry G. Winkelman surrendered and the country fell under German occupation.   As a result, Amsterdam came under a civilian administration overseen by the Reichskommissariat Niederlande, which was dominated by the Schutzstaffel.  

Goudstikker's collection was quickly liquidated in a forced sale typical of many World War II -era art thefts.  Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring himself cherry picked many of the choicest art works, sending more than 800 paintings to Germany.   Some of which were hung in Göring's private collection at Karinhall, his country estate near Berlin.

On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a three-judge panel with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is the U.S. Federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in Alaska, Arizona and the Central District of California heard oral arguments from Von Saher’s attorney, Lawrence Kaye from Herrick Feinstein on the return of the paintings from the Norton Simon Museum.  

In his presentation, Kaye disagreed with U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter's earlier ruling that the Norton Simon Museum is the rightful owner of the paintings on the basis that the Dutch government couldn't assert ownership of artwork it received through external restitution.  In his oral statements he asserted that:

Whatever decision the Appellate court makes in this case will have broad legal ramifications for how forced sale restitution cases are heard in the US Courts.  When the arguments conclude, the judges' panel will either uphold the ruling of the lower court in favor of the Norton Simon Museum,  reverse the earlier decision in favor of von Saher, or send the case back down to the lower court for trial. 

By:  Lynda Albertson