The Wall Street Journal gets into all the details of the Leopold Museum case to show that museums are better off settling than fighting which is what happened as soon as the central figure died last month:
The case defied expectations; it featured a strong claim of ownership and theft facing a weak defense, and was pending during a time when public policy was moving toward conciliation of Nazi-looted art claims. All the elements present should have led to an early settlement; instead, they fueled protracted dispute. The heavyweight lineup of the Leopold Museum, MoMA, Austria and the U.S. government could not, until Leopold’s death, broker a settlement in a case beginning with a poignant and painful Nazi theft. […]
This settlement, however, is both more and less than a cautionary tale. Artwork purchased in haste (without significant diligence) is returned at leisure (after many millions are spent in litigation and settlement). Other buyers had better beware.
Litigating a weak case literally to death costs multiples of what it would have taken to settle the case a decade earlier—no surprise there. The Leopold Museum is not the first party engaged in Nazi-looted-art litigation to pay for its obduracy. Until last week’s settlement, the museum’s decision-making in the “Wally” litigation closely resembled the conduct of the Republic of Austria and the Austrian Gallery in Austria v. Altmann, a well-remembered case fought tenaciously by the Austrian parties, who even pushed it to the U.S. Supreme Court. That case eventually led to the Austrian Gallery’s forced return of five valuable paintings by Gustav Klimt to Austrian émigré Maria Altmann of California, who would undoubtedly have taken far less to settle early on in the litigation process.
Portrait of Notoreity (Wall Street Journal)