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Cranach Diptych – Goudstikker Heirs and Norton Simon Museum

The Cranach diptych “Adam and Eve” was presumably part of Jacques Goudstikker’s collection looted by the Nazis during the Second World War. For several years, Goudstikker’s sole heir, Marei von Saher, and the Norton Simon Museum have led unsuccessful negotiations regarding the heir’s restitution claim. Notwithstanding the support received by the State of California and by several organizations, Marei von Saher’s claims in replevin were dismissed by both the District Court for the Central District of California and by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The heir’s battle is still ongoing.

 

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Citation: Anne Laure Bandle, Nare G. Aleksanyan, Marc-André Renold, “Case Cranach Diptych – Goudstikker Heirs and Norton Simon Museum,” Platform ArThemis (http://unige.ch/art-adr), Art-Law Centre, University of Geneva.

The Cranach diptych “Adam and Eve” was presumably part of Jacques Goudstikker’s collection looted by the Nazis during the Second World War. It is currently on view at the Norton Simon Museum in California. For several years, Goudstikker’s sole heir, Marei von Saher, and the Norton Simon Museum have led unsuccessful negotiations regarding the heir’s restitution claim. Notwithstanding the support received by the State of California and by several organizations, Marei von Saher’s claims in replevin were dismissed by both the District Court for the Central District of California and by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The heir’s battle is still ongoing.

 

I. Chronology

Ongoing dispute – Nazi looted art

  • May 1931: The Cranach diptych – two life-size paintings entitled “Adam and Eve” by sixteenth-century artist Lucas Cranach the Elder – was auctioned off in Berlin. The auction catalogue stipulated that they were part of the Stroganoff-Scherbatoff collection.[1] George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff was a great art collector whose family lost all its property during the Bolshevik revolution. Except for the provenance indicated in the auction catalogue, no other document has been found which conclusively links the Stroganoffs to the diptych. The buyer at the auction was presumably the Dutch art collector, Jacques Goudstikker. His notebook lists the Cranachs as Numbers 2721 and 2722.
  • During the Second World War, Jacques Goustikker’s art collection was seized by Nazi officials.[2]
  • May 1945: The Allied Forces recovered the Cranachs at Göring’s mansion in Berlin and sent them for identification to the Munich Central Collection Point.
  • In or about 1946, the Cranach diptych was returned to the Netherlands under the policy of external restitution: looted art objects were not returned directly to the dispossessed owners, but to their respective country of nationality. In the Netherlands, the return was administrated by the Dutch Art Property Foundation. Three hundred of all the paintings returned to the Netherlands were from the Goudstikker collection.[3]
  • 1966: The Cranachs were returned to George Stroganoff (and not to the Goudstikker family) as part of a settlement with the Dutch Government.[4]
  • 1970-1971: George Stroganoff sold the Cranach diptych to the Norton Simon Museum for $800,000, where it has been on display since 1979.
  • 9 January 1998: The Goudstikker heir filed a claim with the Dutch Government demanding the return of “the Goudstikker collection and all proceeds received by the Dutch Government from the sale of any of the works taken by Göring”.[5] The heir was not yet aware that the Cranach diptych was no longer with the Dutch Government.[6] According to her complaint, she located the paintings at the Norton Simon Museum only on 25 October 2000.
  • 2002: The state of California enacted the “Holocaust-Era Claims Provision” which barred the statute of limitations for claims filed against galleries or museums on or before 31 December 2010 regarding Nazi-looted art thefts (by implementing § 354.3 California Code of Civil Procedure, CCP). Subsequently, Jacques Goudstikker’s sole living heir, Marei von Saher, initiated discussions with the Norton Simon Museum.
  • 2006: The Cranach diptych was appraised for insurance purposes and valued at $24,000,000.
  • 1 May 2007: Marei von Saher filed an action with the United States District Court for the District of California (hereafter “District Court”) seeking the return of the paintings. The heir alleged the following claims for relief: (1) replevin; (2) conversion; (3) damages under California Penal Code § 496; (4) quiet title; and (5) declaratory relief.
  • 9 July 2007: The Norton Simon Museum, in return, filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint. The defendants challenged the heir’s claims arguing (1) the applicable statute of limitations is the three-year limitation period provided by § 338 CCP as § 354.3 CCP was unconstitutional, hence the heir’s claim was time barred; (2) she failed to show “plausible grounds” for challenging the museum’s ownership of the paintings; and (3) she has not sufficiently established the violation of § 496 California Penal Code.[7]
  • 20 August 2007: The District Court granted the application of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, and the American Jewish Congress to file a memorandum as Amici Curiae in support of Von Saher’s claim.
  • 18 October 2007: The District Court dismissed Von Saher’s claim, holding that § 354.3 CCP was unconstitutional, and hence did not apply. Therefore, in view of the original statute of limitations of three years (§ 338 CCP) declared applicable in here, the Court concluded that Von Saher’s claim was time barred.[8]
  • 14 January 2010: The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (hereafter “Court of Appeals”) affirmed in part and reversed in part the District Court’s decision. According to its opinion, the heir’s complaint should not have been dismissed without leave to amend.[9] Marei von Saher filed a petition en banc (that the full panel should revisit her case and not only 3 judges), which the Court of Appeals denied on 14 April 2010.[10]
  • 25 February 2010: Based on the decision from the Court of Appeals, the Committee on Judiciary introduced Assembly Bill 2765, establishing (1) a six-year statute of limitations instead of three years if the action is brought against a museum, dealer, gallery or auction house; (2) the standard of “actual discovery” instead of “constructive discovery,” and (3) retroactive application.[11]
  • 14 April 2010: Marei von Saher then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States (hereafter “Supreme Court”), asking a revision of the case.
  • 27 June 2011: The Supreme Court denied the petition.[12]
  • 8 November 2011: The heir filed an amended complaint alleging the same claims as in the original complaint, but now based them on the amended statute of limitations provisions (§ 338 CCP). She asserted that she discovered the location of the Cranachs not earlier than 25 October 2000.
  • 22 March 2012: In response, the Norton Simon Museum filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, which was granted by the District Court of California.[13]
  • 6 June 2014: The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for the District Court to determine whether initial transfer of paintings from the Netherlands to Stroganoff was a sovereign act, and whether any exception to the Act of State doctrine applied if it was.[14]
  • 29 June 2015: A Magistrate Judge denied the parties’ Stipulation Regarding Confidentiality Protective Order, as it failed to identify any specific privilege that applied to the information and documents within its ambit.[15]
  • 13 June 2016: The heir and the Norton Simon Museum each submitted a Motion for Summary Judgment with the District Court. The District Court granted the Norton Simon Museum’s Motion for Summary Judgment and denied the heir’s Motion for Summary Judgment.[16]
  • 15 August 2016: The Honorable John F. Walter of the Central District of California entered judgment stating that the Norton Simon Museum is the sole owner of the title to the Cranachs, and Marei von Saher has no right, title, or interest in them.[17]

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II. Dispute Resolution Process

Negotiations – Judicial claim – Judicial decision

  • Negotiations between the Norton Simon Museum and Marei von Saher were unsuccessful as both parties were entrenched by their belief that they would have a very strong legal case. While Von Saher has evidence showing that the Cranachs were part of Goudstikker’s collection, the Norton Simon Museum in turn pleads that it bought the Cranach diptych from their “historical owner.”
  • Following the failure of negotiations, Marei von Saher initiated legal proceedings in California. Her claim was “eased” by the Governors engagement for Holocaust victims who amended the initial limitation period and the degree of required discovery. Marei von Saher filed a claim for replevin with the District Court and, following its dismissal, with the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals allowed the heir to file sufficient evidence which would show that her claim was timely.
  • However, before amending her complaint, the heir sought a rehearing en banc of the claim, supported by amicus briefs from the Attorney General of California, the Commission for Art Recovery and a group of California organizations. The California legislature immediately reacted to that decision by introducing Assembly Bill 2765 shortly after it came out. The Bill amended § 338 CCP retroactively. As enacted, claims for the recovery of an artwork against a museum, gallery, dealer or auction house can now be brought within six instead of three years starting from the moment of “actual discovery” and not of “constructive discovery” as previously required. This means that the statutory period runs from the time the identity and whereabouts of the artwork as well as the information establishing a claim of ownership are actually discovered.
  • On the day of the refusal from the Court of Appeals, the plaintiff filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, asking for her case to be reviewed, which was refused as well.
  • Ultimately, the plaintiff took advantage of the extended statute of limitations provided by the amended § 338 CCP and filed an amended complaint alleging that the plaintiff’s claim was timely given that “she did not actually discover that the Cranachs were on display at the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena until October 25, 2000”.[18]
  • The Court of Appeals held that the heir’s claims for replevin and conversion did not conflict with foreign policy and serious weight did not have to be given to the Executive Branch’s view of impact that case had on foreign policy.[19]
  • The Norton Simon Museum opposed the heir’s Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that it had good title for the Cranachs; thus, it precluded judgment in favor of the heir and entitled the museum to summary judgment.[20] The heir opposed the museum’s Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the Dutch Government did not acquire ownership or a power to transfer the Cranachs after the Second World War; thus, the museum did not have good title, and she was entitled to summary judgment.[21]

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III. Legal Issues

Act of State – Ownership – Statute of limitation

  • Court proceedings essentially focused on the constitutionality of the California Holocaust-Era Claims Provision, amending the California Code of Civil Procedure by enacting § 354.3 CCP, which states that “any owner, or heir or beneficiary of an owner, of Holocaust-era artwork, may bring an action to recover Holocaust-era artwork from any [museum or gallery that displays, exhibits, or sells any article of historical, interpretive, scientific, or artistic significance]”, which “shall not be dismissed for failure to comply with the applicable statute of limitation, if the action is commenced on or before December 31, 2010”.[22] Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals held that it violated (1) the foreign affairs doctrine, as it also applied to a museum exhibiting looted art that was located outside the State’s territory; and (2) the federal government’s exclusive power to make and resolve war, including the resolution of war claims.[23] The Court of Appeals noted that such a change of law has to be conducted by the federal government and not by a local tribunal.[24]
  • Secondly, in dismissing the applicability of § 354.3 CCP, the courts still had to evaluate whether Von Saher might have stated a cause of action within the statute of limitations provided by § 338 (c) CCP valid at the time of the Museum’s acquisition of the Cranach diptych in 1971. The District Court considered that in the present case, the limitation period under § 338 (c) CCP had expired. However, the Court of Appeals allowed the plaintiff to amend her complaint by showing precisely when she had received constructive knowledge of the paintings’ location. Evidence in this regard was of great importance, as the statute of limitations runs from the moment “when she discovered or reasonably could have discovered her claim to the Cranachs, and their whereabouts”.[25] The plaintiff instead first filed a petition with the Court of Appeals, asking the court to review her case en banc. The petition was denied by the court, following which the heir filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, which was ultimately denied as well. The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint, to which the Museum responded with a motion to dismiss, which was granted.
  • Finally, the Court of Appeals considered that the case might implicate the Act of State doctrine, underlining the importance of determining whether the conveyance to Stroganoff constituted an official act of a sovereign.[26] Thus, the Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the District Court to determine whether the remedies that Von Saher sought – namely, a declaration that she is the rightful owner of the Cranachs and an order both quieting title in them and returning them to her – implicate the Act of State doctrine.[27] The District Court held that the Dutch State had acquired ownership of the Cranachs under Dutch law (Royal Decree E133), thus the transfer to Stroganoff by the Dutch State constituted an official act of a sovereign.[28] The District Court concluded that the Norton Simon Museum has good title to the Cranachs and entered judgment in favor of the Museum, noting that the heir takes nothing, the action is dismissed on the merits, and the Museum recovers its costs.[29]

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IV. Adopted Solution

Request denied

  • No solution has been reached yet, as the heir’s battle to recover the Cranachs is still ongoing. Despite the set backs suffered in litigating the case, Marei von Saher is determined to continue the fight. Her lawyer, Lawrence Kaye, has said that his client “remains undaunted and optimistic that she will prevail in the end”.[30] The heir plans to appeal.[31]

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V. Comment

  • Frequently, procedural hurdles prevent courts from dealing with Holocaust-era related restitution claims.[32] In the case under consideration, the Supreme Court had indeed not decided on the substance of the case, given the Act of State doctrine recognized by US federal courts (in the absence of any treaty, it cannot decide over foreign takings, i.e. the restitution decisions made by the Dutch Government and courts).[33] As commented by one of the heir’s attorneys, Lawrence Kaye on the June 2011 decision, “the Norton Simon Museum has tried to avoid having the courts address Von Saher’s claim on the merits and has instead hidden behind technical defenses like the statute of limitations”.[34]
  • As an alternative, Von Saher could consider filing a claim for the Cranachs in the Netherlands, based on Dutch property law (lack of property title for the sale in 1966).[35] However, as the Dutch Government agreed in 2006 with the Dutch Restitution Committee, to return her 200 paintings, formerly part of the national collection, her chances to obtain sufficient political and public support again for another claim in the Netherlands would be unlikely.[36]

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VI. Sources

a. Bibliography

  • Dermasin, Bert. “The Third Time Is Not Always a Charm: The Troublesome Legacy of a Dutch Art Dealer – The Limitation and Act of State Defenses in Looted Art Cases.” Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal 28 (2010): 255–312.
  • Kaye, Lawrence M. “Avoidance and Resolution of Cultural Heritage Disputes: Recovery of Art Looted During the Holocaust.” Williamette Journal of International Law and Dispute Resolution 14:2 (Winter 2006): 243 ff.

b. Court decisions/documents

  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, CV 07-2866-JFW (SSx), (C.D. Cal. Aug. 15, 2016) (judgment).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, CV 07-2866-JFW (SSx), (C.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2016) (civil minutes – general)eJuly 1, 20166Royal Decree E133.als  complaint, to which the Museum responded with a motion to dismiss, which was granted.
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art, 2016 WL 4061663 (C.D. Cal. July 1, 2016) (defendant’s opposition to plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, CV 07-2866 JFW (SSx), (C.D. Cal. June 29, 2015) (denying parties’ stipulation regarding confidentiality protective order).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art, 754 F.3d 712 (9th Cir. Cal. 2014) (reversed and remanded).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 862 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (C.D. Cal. 2012).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 564 U.S. 1037 (2011) (denying writ of certiorari).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2010), No. 07-56691, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 1018 (amending opinion and petitions for rehearing and for rehearing en banc).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2010) (affirmed in part and reversed in part the second decision).
  • Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art, 2007 WL 4302726 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 18, 2007).

c. Legislation

  • State of California Assembly Bill No. 2765. Chaptered, 30 September 2010. See at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/asm/ab_2751-2800/ab_2765_bill_20100930_chaptered.pdf.

d. Documents

  • Anne Laure Bandle, Alessandro Chechi and Marc-André Renold, “Case 200 Paintings – Goudstikker Heirs and the Netherlands,” Platform ArThemis (http://unige.ch/art-adr), Centre of Art-Law, University of Geneva. March 2012.
  • Brief of Amici Curiae Bet Tzedek Legal Services, et al. May 17, 2010. Document available on the website of Commission for Art Recovery. Accessed July 18, 2011. http://www.commartrecovery.org/sites/default/files/Brief%20of%20Amici%20Curiae%20Bet%20Tzedek%20Legal%20Services,%20et%20al.%20May%2017,%202010.pdf.
  • Commission for Art Recovery’s Amicus Brief. May 17, 2010. Document available on the website of Commission for Art Recovery. Accessed July 18, 2011. http://www.commartrecovery.org/sites/default/files/Brief%20of%20Amicus%20Curiae%20Commission%20for%20Art%20Recovery.%20May%2017,%202010.pdf.
  • California Attorney General’s Amicus Brief for the State of California May 17, 2010. Document available on the website of Commission for Art Recovery. Accessed July 18, 2011. http://www.commartrecovery.org/sites/default/files/BrieffortheStofCalasAmicusCuriae.pdf.

e. Media

  • D’Arcy, David. “Norton Simon Museum Can Keep Cranachs, California Judge Decides.” http://theartnewspaper.com/news/news/norton-simon-museum-can-keep-cranachs-california-judge-decides/. August 17, 2016. Accessed August 22, 2016.
  • O’Donnell, Nicholas. “Von Saher Claim against Norton Simon Museum Dismissed as Preempted under Foreign Affairs Doctrine.” Art Law Report, April 5, 2012. Accessed June 27, 2012. http://www.artlawreport.com/2012/04/05/von-saher-claim-against-norton-simon-museum-dismissed-as-preempted-under-foreign-affairs-doctrine/.
  • Press Release – Herrick, Feinstein LLP. “Despite Setback by the Supreme Court, Goudstikker Heir Pledges to Continue Fight Against Norton Simon Museum.” June 27, 2011.

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[1] The chronology of this case is based on a presentation by Bert Dermasin at the conference “Art and Cultural Heritage Law: Developments and Challenges in Past and Present”, Maastricht, 27-28 March 2011.

[2] For the historical background and previous settlements concerning the Goudstikker collection see Anne Laure Bandle, Raphael Contel, Marc-André Renold, “Case 200 Paintings – Goudstikker Heirs and the Netherlands,” Platform ArThemis (http://unige.ch/art-adr), Centre of Art-Law, University of Geneva.

[3] Ibid.

[4] A report from October 2000, sponsored by the State Secretary of the Netherlands, entitled “Origins Unknown”, revealed that the paintings were sold at auction in 1966 by the Dutch Government to the Stroganoff family.

[5] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 862 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (C.D. Cal. 2012).

[6] Ibid. On the outcome of the Dutch claim, see Anne Laure Bandle, Raphael Contel, Marc-André Renold, cit. supra n. 2.

[7] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art, 2007 WL 4302726 (C.D. Cal. October 18, 2007).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2010).

[10] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2010), No. 07-56691, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 1018.

[11] Assemb. Bill No. 2765, Chaptered, 30 September 2010.

[12] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 564 U.S. 1037 (2011).

[13] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 862 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (C.D. Cal. 2012).

[14] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art, 754 F.3d 712 (9th Cir. Cal. 2014).

[15] Mem. and Order Den. Parties’ Stip. re. Conf. Prot. Order June 29, 2015.

[16] Civil Min. Gen., August 9, 2016. eJuly 1, 20166Royal Decree E133.als  complaint, to which the Museum responded with a motion to dismiss, which was granted.

[17] Judgment, August 15, 2016.

[18] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 862 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (C.D. Cal. 2012).

[19] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art, 754 F.3d 712 (9th Cir. Cal. 2014).

[20] Def’s Opp. to Pl’s Mot. Summ. J. July 1, 2016.

[21] Civil Min. Gen. August 9, 2016.

[22] § 354.3 (a)(2) CCP defines Holocaust-era artwork by “any article of artistic significance taken as a result of Nazi persecution during the period of 1929 to 1945, inclusive”.

[23] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2010).

[24] Ibid. eJuly 1, 20166Royal Decree E133.als  complaint, to which the Museum responded with a motion to dismiss, which was granted.

[25] Ibid., at 969.

[26] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 754 F.3d 712, 726 (9th Cir. 2014).

[27] Ibid.

[28] Civil Min. Gen. August 9, 2016.

[29] Judg. August 15, 2016.

[30] See David D’Arcy, “Norton Simon Museum Can Keep Cranachs, California Judge Decides”.

[31] Ibid.

[32] See Lawrence M. Kaye, “Avoidance and Resolution of Cultural Heritage Disputes”.

[33] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 862 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (C.D. Cal. 2012).

[34] Press Release – Herrick, Feinstein LLP, “Despite Setback by the Supreme Court”.

[35] See Bert Dermasin, “The Third Time Is Not Always a Charm”.

[36] See Anne Laure Bandle, Raphael Contel, Marc-André Renold, cit. supra n. 2.

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