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Woman trying to win Nazi-looted paintings from Norton Simon Museum loses appeal

January 14, 2010 |  5:48 pm

CranachAdamEve In a setback for a Connecticut woman trying to recover two prized paintings from the Norton Simon Museum looted during the Holocaust, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused today to rehear an appeal it had denied in August.

The nearly 500-year-old paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder are on separate wooden panels and depict Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, moments before the Fall.

Marei Von Saher had asked that the full appeals court revisit the case, which had been decided last August by a three-judge panel.

A California law enacted in 2002 had given special treatment to suits to recoup Nazi-looted art.  Instead of having to sue within the usual three-year statute of limitations, victims and their heirs were given through the end of 2010 to bring claims, even if the statute of limitations had run out. But in a 2-1 ruling, appellate judges decided that the state law was an unconstitutional intrusion on the federal government’s prerogative to wage war and set foreign policy. Now, with the appeal's final rejection, it also has likely sounded the death knell for two other state laws that gave Holocaust survivors and heirs extra time to make legal claims for restitution for slave labor and unpaid insurance policies.

Von Saher still has legal options to pursue, her lawyer says, including a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Cranach paintings turned into history's pingpong balls nearly 100 years ago, changing hands first because of the Russian Revolution, then during lean times in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, and again during the Holocaust, when Von Saher's father-in-law, a leading Dutch-Jewish art dealer, fled the invading Germans in 1940 and his firm sold the paintings to the Nazis under duress.

Read more about it here.

-- Mike Boehm


Appeals court overturns Holocaust looted-art law, but Norton Simon suit continues

The Norton Simon Museum is battling to keep `Adam' and `Eve'

Photo: Lucas Cranac, Adam and Eve. Credit: Norton Simon Museum

Comments () | Archives (11)

oh! these are the paintings featured in Desperate Housewives opening...

The Norton Simon and all there looted artifacts should be held accountable,
this is just NAZI COLLABORATION......!

Why in the world would this be unconstitutional? I'm seriously p. o'd...

Why is this in US courts, and not in Deutch ones?

Where is Justice here??? It appears there is no justice in this case. The rightful owner of this painting will never get it back, however, I feel the painting should belong to the public in a museum. Therefore, Norton Simon should pay the heirs of the painting at least $25 million dollars as compensation for retaining and keeping ownership of the painting.

The irony of this case is that the paintings' journey into the Dutch art dealer's hands is itself a suspect one, as they were purchased from the Soviets at an auction. How they got into the hands of the Soviets is itself uncertain.

Keep the paintings in the Norton Simon.

The "rightful owners" of the painting will never get it back, because they're deceased. Is it right for the heirs of the artwork to get it back and then sell it off to a private owner, thereby removing it from the view of the public? Or should the Norton Simon keep it and continue to show it to its many visitors? Doesn't seem like a complicated question.

Sold under 'duress', the germans spelled that 'm-a-u-s-e-r'

The family deserves their day in court. Once in court, the entire provenance of the work can be explored.

Whether the public has some "right" to view the work is secondary. Establish rightful ownership first, and go from there.

If the family is awarded ownership, they could always loan the pieces for display (full- or part-time) to various museums.

I fail to understand why the "rightful owner" is a thief at one point in time, as opposed to a thief at another. None of them acquired these paintings lawfully (Bolshevik loots = lawful, Nazi loots = unlawful? Hard to follow the logic). And why create yet another example of that, allowing this person to bust the statute of limitations that everybody else is subject to under the law?

Just let the paintings sit where they are, accessible to the public.


"(Bolshevik loots = lawful, Nazi loots = unlawful? Hard to follow the logic). And why create yet another example of that, allowing this person to bust the statute of limitations that everybody else is subject to under the law?"

The Louvre is full of art objects taken without consent from their owners by Napoleon, and the British Museum is not much different. What about the Getty on PCH, the Vatican or the Hermitage?

If we really want to exhume 'original' owners and match their DNA to current owners, we are going to be very busy.


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