Along with the Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, we were happy to host US attorney Nicholas O’Donnell last night for a talk on Nazi-looted art and the ongoing attempts at reclaiming lost works from museums and private collections in the US. Nicholas was in London promoting his new book, A Tragic Fate: Law and Ethics in the Battle over Nazi-Looted Art (Ankerwicke, 2017). He discussed a number of the leading cases in this regard, including the famous Portrait of Wally case, which pitted the Leopold Museum in Vienna against the heirs of a former Jewish art dealer, Lea Bondi Jaray, who was forced to flee Austria in 1938, and the dispute between Austria and Maria Altmann involving the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (the so-called ‘Woman in Gold’). Finally, was the most recent, and ongoing, claim regarding the Guelph Treasure, a case in which Nicholas is representing the plaintiffs, who are descendants of Jewish art dealers that were forced to sell the treasure to the Prussian state in 1935.
Following the lecture came a panel discussion chaired by UK Spoliation Advisory Panel member Tony Baumgartner. The panel, which consisted of Dr Charlotte Woodhead (Warwick Law School) and Gregor Kleinknecht (parter, Hunters Solicitors) considered the situation in the UK, in which claims against public museums and galleries for works in their collections lost during the Nazi era (1933-1945) are heard by a governmental panel. The process allows the decision-making body to consider moral, as well as simply legal, claims. In this way, the moral strength of the victims or their heirs are aired, a contrast to the American approach in which claims are dealt with under strict legality by courts of law.
This was the first public event in the context of the new law Masters programme (LL.M) being offered by Queen Mary and the IAL, and which begins later this month. We would also like to thank Hunters Solicitors who kindly sponsored the drinks reception that followed.