Restitution news (ctd.)

May 30 2017

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian/Observer

Writing in The Observer, Dalya Alberge has the interesting restitution story of a Marieschi (above) to be sold by Sotheby's in London this summer (est. £500k-£700k). The painting was owned by Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf in Germany before WW2, but stolen by the Nazis after the Grafs fled to the US in 1938. Not long after the war the picture was bought 'in good faith' by a British collector from a London art dealer.

The Graf family continued their hunt for the picture and in 1998 discovered that Christie's knew where the picture was - but Christie's would not divulge where the painting was, or who owned it, and it appears that no contact was made with the owner. 

Now, however, a deal has been reached with the current owner, through art lawyer Christopher Marinello of Art Recovery International. The terms of the deal are not being revealed, but it appears that the owner and the Graf family will share the proceeds of the sale.

It appears that everyone is content, although as Alberge writes:

The family feels let down by the art trade. Stephen Tauber (the Graf's son-in-law) said that the painting had been listed as stolen in 1946, before London dealers acquired it: “It was in the public record. They could easily have found out that it was stolen. They didn’t bother.”

His son [Andrew Tauber] described Christie’s refusal to divulge details of its whereabouts as “obviously disappointing. [It] delayed our recovery by quite a number of years.”

The family might also feel let down by British law in this area. It should have been possible, given the fact that the painting was clearly known to have been looted, to compel Christie's or anyone who knew the whereabouts of the painting, to make contact with the Graf heirs, to at least begin negotiations. In effect, the painting was stolen; and in any other walk of life people don't normally go out of their way to protect the owners of stolen goods. The case also demonstrates the extent to which buying a painting 'in good faith' gives the owner of a Nazi looted work some degree of control over both title and the value of the asset, at least in the UK. As far as I understand it, if the painting had been in the US, it would have been seized outright by the government and returned to the Graf's heirs.

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