Saturday, January 26, 2008

MFA Suit

I recently took note of the beginnings of a trend whereby museums and other institutions were going on offense and seeking declaratory judgments against potential restitution claimants, rather than sitting around waiting to be sued. Today's New York Times has the latest example:

"The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has turned to the courts to validate its claim to a 1913 Oskar Kokoschka painting sought by Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, an Austrian woman who says it was sold under duress during the Nazi occupation of Austria .... Lawyers for Ms. Seger-Thomschitz contend that there is no doubt that the Kokoschka painting, 'Two Nudes (Lovers),' was sold under duress by Oskar Reichel, a physician who ran an art gallery in Vienna. The Museum of Fine Arts, citing months of research, maintained that the sale in 1939 was voluntary and to another Jew, the Viennese art dealer Otto Kallir."

JL from Modern Kicks comments: "Obviously one wants to know more before deciding definitively, but forced sales are often a tricky thing to determine, and they are not the same as sales stemming from a tragic situation. One might say that the owner was forced by circumstances to do something, but to consider that to rise to the level of what typically has been understood as a forced sale would expand the range of potential claims in a way that I don't believe has previously been accepted or, in my view, should be accepted. That doesn't mean it's a happy situation, but at some point there are limits."