Art Law: Limbach Commission Recommends To Return Kokoschka Painting to Flechtheim Heirs

Last week we reported that Bavaria is being taken to court in the US over a restitution claim of the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family, after it refused to bring the matter to the Limbach Commission. The City of Cologne (Köln), to the contrary, had agreed to bring the claim to return Oskar Kokoschka’s portrait of Tilla Durieux to the heirs of art dealer Alfred Flechtheim before the Commission. It is now faced with a recommendation of the Limbach Commission (its full name being Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogener Kulturguts, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz).On April 30, 2013, the Cologne City Council will have to decide whether to return the painting or not.

The underlying dispute appears to have been very similar to the one in the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy case: Were the sales made by Flechtheim and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, respectively, distressed sales caused by economic problems unrelated to Nazi oppression and persecution, or were they directly or indirectly caused by these measures? If they did, the would qualify as a sale caused by persecution (verfolgungsbedingter Verkauf).

The Limbach Commission in its recommendation acknowledges that the exact circumstances of the sale remain unclear, but on balance, it appeared that Flechtheim’s loss of the painting was caused by persecution. (“Doch ist mangels konkreter gegenteiliger Belege davon auszugehen, dass Alfred Flechtheim aufgrund seiner Verfolgungssituation dazu gezwungen war, das streitbefangene Gemälde aufzugeben. Ein NS-verfolgungsbedingter Verlust des Gemäldes ist daher zu bejahen.”)

Frankfurter Allgemeine is of the opinion that the Flechtheim case has set an important precedent for similar cases. At the same time, the press statement issued by the City of Cologne goes to great length to stress that the Commission’s recommendation to return the painting  was highly fact-specific and should not be seen a precedent for other pending restitution claims. But first, let’s see what the City Council decides to do.




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