A federal law passed late last year, designed to make it easier for families to recover art stolen by the Nazis, is getting its first test in a New York court.
While the Nazis were plundering Europe, one of the many things they did was to steal artwork from the owners and keep it for themselves. Under international law, artwork is supposed to be returned to the original owners or their heirs.
Since the Nazis were defeated a long time ago, many people might think that has been done by now. They would be wrong in many cases.
The current holders of many contested works have successfully defended themselves against the heirs for technical reasons, such as the statute of limitations. To address this problem, last year the U.S. Congress passed the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, known as the HEAR Act.
It is about to get its first use, according to the New York Times in “A Suit Over Schiele Drawings Invokes New Law on Nazi-Looted Art.”
The case is over two drawings by Egon Schiele that were once owned by Fritz Grunbaum. The Nazis took Grunbaum’s artwork from his home in Vienna in 1938 and sent him to a concentration camp where he died.
His heirs claim the Nazis stole the artwork.
However, that has been disputed by dealers, current owners and museums, who claim the Nazis only inventoried the works. They also claim that Grunbaum’s sister-in-law sold some of the works, including the two drawings in the current dispute, to a dealer in the 1950s.
Grunbaum’s heirs have previously lost in court trying to recover this artwork.
They claim they have lost for the very technical reasons the HEAR Act was designed to prevent.
Since this is the first time the Act will be used in court, how the court uses the Act will be closely monitored.
Reference: New York Times (Feb. 27, 2017) “A Suit Over Schiele Drawings Invokes New Law on Nazi-Looted Art.”
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