MoMA and Santa Barbara Museum of Art Hit With Nazi Loot Lawsuits

December 20, 2022 – Media Mention
The Daily Beast

Howard Spiegler, spoke to The Daily Beast about two lawsuits that were recently filed alleging that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California are in possession of pieces of Nazi looted artwork, and descendants of the original Jewish owner of that art are now requesting the pieces’ return.

The article notes the heirs are seeking to reclaim a pencil on paper drawing entitled Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by Egon Schiele, which the suit states is located at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the painting entitled Prostitute, also by Egon Schiele, which the suit states is located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The plaintiffs claim the artworks were stolen from their ancestor by the Nazis through an unlawful power of attorney while he was imprisoned and tortured at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

The suit claims that MoMa was on "inquiry notice prior to the acquiring [Prostitute] that it might be stolen and failed to exercise appropriate diligence in acquiring” it. The suit further alleges that From 1956 until approximately 1966, Portrait was in the possession of Galerie St. Etienne in New York City before it was tortiously removed from the county.

“Artwork does not have any official record-keeping that’s maintained by governments or others to track the ownership history of the works,” Howard explained. “What you’re left with is whatever provenance you have, which can be established sometimes by looking at the back of the painting, where you can see the names of various galleries or collectors who once had the work, or if the work has been up for auction.”

The article highlights the enactment of Holocaust Expropriated Recovery Act (the "HEAR Act"), a federal law enacted in 2016, which loosened statue-of-limitations requirements for the recovery of artwork that was lost or stolen because of Nazi persecution between January 1, 1933, and December 31, 1945. 

The article also notes that the plaintiff has filed additional suits against other four other museums seeking to reclaim other arworks allegedly stolen from his ancestor. 

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