Art restitution cases to rocket
THE NUMBER of artworks claimed successfully generations after they were looted by the Nazis is due to rise sharply, according to a JC investigation.
A combination of recent factors, from City bonuses pushing up auction-house prices to court rulings, has created a “perfect storm” that is encouraging heirs and their lawyers to bring claims. The financial returns from restituted artworks — such as the Klimt painting, above, sold for $135 million after being returned to its Jewish owner — has spawned a generation of art detectives and lawyers whose business it is to track down these works. Sources involved in the recovery of Nazi-looted art have told the JC that lawyers in Germany have started to work on cases under their own initiative before approaching families, hoping to win their business.
Rulings in US courts have also encouraged claimants to lodge lawsuits there against foreign governments in their quest for justice. Internet databases, too, are helping claimants locate works.
Mark Stephens, an art lawyer at Finers Stephens Innocent in London, said: “Now claims are doubling year on year with concomitant levels of restitution. We are looking at large amounts of compensation. Every year we are going to see bigger cases as governments formalise their positions on this issue and put their national collections in order.”
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Gustav Klimt, returned to Maria Altmann, 92