Nazi-looted Cranach artworks to remain in California museum | News | DW | 31.07.2018
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Nazi-looted Cranach artworks to remain in California museum

A US museum has won a legal dispute over the ownership of two Renaissance masterpieces that were looted by the Nazis. The life-size paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder were once in the possession of Hermann Göring.

A US appeals court has awarded a museum in California the right to keep two 16th century paintings by German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

According to court documents, the life-size panels depicting Adam and Eve belonged to Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker. After he fled the Netherlands in 1940, the paintings were taken by Nazi Reich Marshall Hermann Göring in a forced sale.

Read moreReunited in Moscow, Cranach paintings tell tale of Soviet-looted art

The Dutch government subsequently sold the works to the Stroganoffs, a Russian family, who then sold them in 1971 to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, which has owned them ever since.

Goudstikker's daughter-in-law, Marei von Saher, has been locked in an 11-year legal battle with the museum to get the paintings back. Her lawyer, Lawrence Kaye, said he was "obviously disappointed" by the court's ruling and would review the decision with his client.

The museum said in a statement it was pleased with the outcome, adding that the "decision should finally put this matter to rest."

Read moreHow Lucas Cranach, the Elder, became a Renaissance entrepreneur

Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena

The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena will be allowed to keep displaying its Cranach panels

The judge's reasoning

Several prominent works of art stolen by the Nazis have been the subject of lawsuits in recent years. The case of the two 1.9-meter (6.25-foot) Cranach panels — valued at an estimated $24 million (€20 million) — hinged largely on whether the string of past sales could be seen as lawful.

Read moreIrina Antonova: Looted art is 'the price paid for remembering'

Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown upheld a 2016 court decision acknowledging that, under Dutch law,  the Cranachs had been "enemy property" belonging to Göring. After the war that property was transferred to the Dutch government, which had the right to sell them in 1966 to George Stroganhoff-Scherbatoff, a descendant of the Russian aristocracy.

McKeown said that the "act of state" doctrine validated the sale of the paintings by the Dutch government to Stroganoff.

She added that "the Nazi plunder of artwork was a moral atrocity that compels an appropriate governmental response," but said ruling in von Saher's favor would have required nullifying three "official" Dutch government actions: the 1966 sale to Stroganoff; a 1999 decision not to restore von Saher's rights; and a 2006 decision that her claim had been "settled."

Watch video 42:37

The Cranachs and Medieval Modern Art

nm/kms (Reuters, dpa)

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