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Will Third Visit to Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Be Déjà Vu All Over Again for Norton Simon Museum?

DOI https://doi.org/10.15542/KUR/2017/1/4

Thomas R. Kline


Marei von Saher, heir of Jacques Goudstikker, one of the leading pre-War dealers in The Netherlands, has brought suit against the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena in California to recover possession of paintings of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder. During the wartime occupation of The Netherlands, Alois Miedl, a close associate of Hermann Goering, took over the Goudstikker gallery, running it on his own behalf and for the benefit of his master, transferring paintings to Goering and otherwise disposing of the gallery stock. In her lawsuit, Von Saher alleges that Norton Simon has wrongful possession of artwork looted from the Goudstikker gallery. The litigation has twice been decided by the trial court in favour of the Museum, however, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has twice reversed and remanded the case to the trial court. In the most recent decision by the trial court, its third, the court ruled again in favour of the Museum, applying very strict and stingy Dutch law from the immediate post-War period and ignoring more recent international developments, such as the Washington Principles, that encourage “just and fair” resolution of claims to restitution of artwork based on allegations of looting during the Nazi era and World War II. Mr. Kline’s article reviews and untangles the most recent decision by the trial court and asks the question whether this decision, the fifth court decision overall in the case, is likely to be affirmed or reversed by the Court of Appeals. Mr. Kline has not previously participated in this case, however, since publication of his article in the IFAR Journal, he has undertaken to prepare an amicus curia, or friend of the court, brief supporting von Saher’s claim in the court of appeals.

* Thomas R. Kline, Attorney at Law in Washington D.C./USA.

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