Norton Simon Museum Asks Court to Reconsider Nazi Loot Claim

Lucas Cranach the Elder's paintings of Adam and Eve at the Norton Simon Museum. Photo by Rachael Moore via Flickr.

In June, the US 9th Circuit court of appeals agreed to hear the case of Marei Von Saher against the Norton Simon Museum, which owns a pair of paintings looted by the Nazis from her father-in-law in 1940. Now, the Norton Simon museum is asking for a rehearing.

In their decision, two members of a three-judge panel revived Von Saher’s claim to Adam and Eve (both 1530), by Lucas Cranach the Elder, despite the claim having been dismissed two years earlier in US District Court in Los Angeles. According to a report by Mike Boehm in the Los Angeles Times, the museum’s petition seeks a rehearing by an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit in hopes that the majority will take a different view, namely one that is in line with the earlier decision. The paintings were stolen from Von Saher’s father in law, Jacques Goudstikker, who fled Amsterdam with his family when the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940.

According to the report, the question centers on how the law views actions in the years following World War II, when US forces sent Adam and Eve back to Holland. Goudstikker’s widow, Desi, refused to negotiate an agreement because she didn’t trust Dutch officials to be fair, according to the report. In 1966 the Netherlands sold the painting to an heir of Russian artistocrats who claimed that his family, the Stroganoffs, had lost them to the Soviets. Museum founder Norton Simon bought the paintings from the Stroganoff heir in 1971 for what would be “$4 million in today’s dollars.” A 2006 appraisal placed their value at “an inflation-adjusted $28.3 million.”

The two 9th Circuit judges who revived Von Saher’s claim said that Desi Goudstikker had good reason to walk away from the Dutch government because of the likelihood of unjust treatment. The dissenting judge said that unfairness in how the Netherlands handled post-war art restitution did not mean it had failed to meet its minimum responsibilities. According to the LA Times, “simply offering Goudstikker’s widow a chance to negotiate was enough, she said, in a minority opinion now echoed by the Norton Simon as it seeks a rehearing.”

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