After a decade-long battle, a federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena can keep two 16th-century masterpieces seized by the Nazis from a Dutch Jewish art dealer.
In its ruling, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena affirmed a lower court’s 2016 summary judgment in favor of the museum after concluding that the appellate court cannot overturn “sovereign acts” of the Dutch government.
The nearly 500-year-old oil paintings — separate life-size portraits of Adam and Eve by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder — were obtained by the Nazis in a forced sale before the art dealer Jacques Goudstikker fled the Netherlands in 1940.
Following the war, the Allied Forces returned the paintings to the Dutch government. In 1966, the Dutch government sold the works to a Russian collector who sold them to industrialist Norton Simon in 1971. The paintings have been on display at the museum he founded since that time.
Goudstikker’s daughter-in-law, Marei von Saher, sued the museum in federal court in Los Angeles in 2007, claiming she was the rightful owner of the art.
However, the appeals court determined that the Dutch government owned the title to the works when officials sold the paintings to the Russian collector.
In her concurring opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said the issue was effectively resolved six years ago when the district court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiff’s claims conflicted with U.S. policy on recovered art. Appeals went up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in January 2015 declined to consider the museum’s request to dismiss the case.
“So here we are in 2018, over a decade from the date Von Saher filed her federal action, reaching an issue we need not have reached, to finally decide that the Cranachs, which have hung in the Norton Simon Museum nearly 50 years, may remain there,” Wardlaw wrote.