Update on Art Law: The Gurlitt Paintings – A Treasure Trove of Looted Art

In today’s Legal Tribune Online, I have published a German language piece which adresses the limitation issues in more (technical) detail. Interestingly, one of the few cases that ever dealt with these limitation issues, not only in the context of looted art, under German law was an English High Court case: City of Gotha  and Federal Republic of Germany v. Sotheby’s and Cobert Finance S.A. of 1998.

This is from the case summary of the City of Gotha  judgment on the IUSCOMP website:

“Comparative and conflicts lawyers will be thrilled by the fact that this English judgment is the first reported court decision on § 221 of the German Civil Code on limitation of proprietary actions when a third party acquires possession of the property. In spite of its age (almost exactly one hundred years) and obvious relevance to the recovery of stolen art, not a single decision by any German court on this provision seems to have been reported. Thus, a decision by the High Court of England and Wales, which includes a full discussion of  German academic writing on the subject, becomes the first judicial authority on a section of this venerable codification of Civil Law.”

Not only the law, but also the facts of the case are fascinating:

“The crime story [of the case] centres around a priceless painting in Dutch mannerist style. The setting includes treasure looting in Soviet occupied Germany immediately after the Second World War and the murky circles of Moscow art smugglers in the last years of Communist rule. The painting links the Dukal family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha with the Soviet secret service, “Big Mamma” (the wife of the Togolese Ambassador to Moscow), shady dealings of a Panamese company, paid informants, and one of the world’s leading auction houses.”

Sounds like this case has a lot in common with the evolving Gurlitt saga.



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