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Norton Simon’s Legal Woes & the Fate of Adam & Eve

May 5, 2012

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s diptych “Adam and Eve” C. 1530.

The Los Angles Times reports the legal battle between a relative of Jacques Goudstikker, a Dutch Jewish art dealer whose inventory was seized by the Nazis in World War II, and The Norton Simon Museum, which owns works taken from Goudstikker, is heading into the final stages.  A settlement in favor of the Goudstikker heir, Marei Von Saher, would deprive of the museum of a diptych depicting Adam and Eve by the famous German painter Lucas Cranach the Elder; and a judgement against Von Saher could negatively impact other claimants seeking the restitution of art work stolen by the Nazis.  In 2006, Von Saher won restitution of some 200 works seized by Nazis and held by Dutch institutions.  Von Saher then arranged for the sale of a substantial number through Christie’s.  Here’s an excerpt from this fascinating story:

A long-running lawsuit to force the Norton Simon Museum to surrender one of its prized artworks, 480-year-old paired paintings of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder that were looted duringthe Holocaust, has reached what could be its last legal round: plaintiff Marei Von Saher’s recent appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

If her appeal fails, it could have far-reaching implications, potentially undermining a larger class of claims to recover Nazi-looted art.

Von Saher, who lives in Connecticut, contends that the “Adam and Eve” diptych that has hung in the Pasadena museum since the late 1970s remains stolen goods. The paintings had belonged to her father-in-law, Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent Dutch-Jewish art dealer whose holdings were expropriated by one of Adolf Hitler‘s top henchmen, Hermann Goering, in a forced sale after the family fled the Nazi invasion of Holland in 1940.

A key issue if the case went to trial would be whether Goudstikker’s heirs gave up their right to the diptych in what Von Saher contends were unfairly conducted negotiations with the Dutch government after the war.

U.S. District Judge John Walter dismissed Von Saher’s suit March 22, ruling that Dutch authorities’ handling of the Goudstikker claim more than 60 years ago was consistent with a U.S. policy at the time called “external restitution.”

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