The Associated Press looks as the case of an Emil Nolde painting and wonders whether the big money to be made in restitution hasn’t clouded the issue:
A process that ought to be a simple matter of natural justice has been muddied by court battles and charges by some museum officials that claims are being pushed forward by middlemen more interested in profits than in doing the right thing.
They complain that heavyweight lawyers are entering the fray, and that recovered works are being auctioned off and disappearing from public view.
The painting in Stockholm is called “Blumengarten (Utenwarf),” meaning flower garden, painted in Utenwarf, Germany. It is estimated to be worth $4 million to $6 million.
“The most convenient for me would be to give it back. But this is importantly a question of justice and ethics and the consequences for other public museums if we cave in,” said Lars Nittve, director of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.
Ricardo Lorca-Deutsch, a Frankfurt man and one of four heirs behind the “Blumengarten” claim, denies it’s about making big money.
“We have lost the family members, our household and so on. What we d ,dare looking for is to receive a little thing of all this back — nothing more,” he said.
Nittve is critical of the heirs for hiring David Rowland, a New York-based lawyer, to press their claim. Lorca-Deutsch says there was no choice, because “without a lawyer you have no chance.”
Georg Heuberger, representative of the Jewish Claims Conference in Germany, says the main problem isn’t greedy lawyers, but museums whose archives and past buying practices lack transparency. [ . . . ]
The Deutsch heirs say the family, scattered around the world, didn’t know until 1978 that “Blumengarten” had survived the war, and even then saw little chance of getting it back.
Then, in 2003, they started pursuing the claim.
Documents proving original ownership surfaced in 2006, when the heirs’ lawyer found evidence that the German government in 1962 recognized the painting was lost because of the Nazis’ actions and paid the family $1,000 in restitution.
Nittve says the family had already been compensated for its loss, and asks why it took the heirs so long to file a claim.
Rowland says the family received only a fraction of the painting’s real value, and that under German law, the $1,000 covered only items that had ceased to exist — not those that might later be recovered.
“Blumengarten” was supposed to follow its owner to Amsterdam. Instead it turned up in a German gallery’s catalog after the war, then in a Swiss gallery where the Moderna bought it. Otto Nathan Deutsch died in Amsterdam in 1940 — apparently of natural causes, Lorca-Deutsch says — while several family members died in concentration camps.
Nittve says the Moderna paid a fair price for “Blumengarten,” and therefore deserves a solution that is flexible and takes the museum’s expenditure into account.
“This is no clear-cut case,” he said.
Stakes Rise for Nazi-Looted Art as Lawyers Move In (Associated Press)