Thursday, December 11, 2008

"I believe history is history and that you can’t turn the clock back"

Sir Norman Rosenthal, exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts from 1977 to 2008, argues in The Art Newspaper for an end to Nazi restitution cases: "There should now surely be a statute of limitations on this kind of restitution. If we were still in 1950 and the people who owned the Manet or the Monet were still alive, then it would surely be correct to give these paintings back, but not now and not to grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

Derek Fincham correctly points out in response that "such limitations periods currently exist. The difficulty is not the amount of time we might choose for a period, but rather what circumstances trigger the running of that limitations period." But I think what Sir Norman is suggesting is not simply that there be a limitations period, but that we should decide that it has expired, for all possible cases of this sort.