A 16th century diptych by Lucas Cranach the Elder has become the focal point of a Nazi loot retribution case, Courthouse News reports. As with many pieces of art stolen by the Nazis or sold under duress, the life-sized oil paintings “Adam” and “Eve” have a long history of changing hands, which complicates matters for parties seeking to assert prior ownership.
In 1940 Jacques Goudstikker, a Dutch Jew and important art dealer, died while attempting to flee the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, leaving behind a tremendous Old Maters collection, which at various times had included works by Hieronymous Bosch, François Boucher, and Johannes Vermeer, among others.
The collection was obtained by Hermann Göring, Hitler’s deputy, whose collection at the end of the war could account for half of all the art confiscated by the Reich — or a total of 20 percent of all the art in Europe, according to the National Archives. After the war the Cranach diptych was given to the Dutch government by Allied forces, and then to an American citizen who sold it to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
Goudstikker’s granddaughter, Marei Von Saher, has successfully recovered 200 Old Master paintings,using Goudstikker’s “blackbook” inventory of his collection while navigating the European courts in the largest restitution claim of artwork stolen by the Nazis. However, “Adam” and “Eve” — recently appraised at $24 million — remain at the Norton Simon, mired in the conflicts of diplomatic policy.
Despite past dismissals, the long-running case continues, as the court considers the U.S. government’s right to manage plundered art under constitutional authority and if Saher’s claim puts Dutch policy under illegal scrutiny — a concern that has appeared in a similar case concerning a Camille Pissarro owned by the Spanish government. The family of the late California resident Claude Cassirer is still pursuing a claim in the Ninth Circuit court against Spain in that restitution case.
Sitting en banc in that case, Judge Ronald M. Gould wrote: “Two wrongs do not make a right, and, notwithstanding the Nazis’ campaign of genocide against Jews and theft of their property, if Spain was not complicit in the Nazis’ taking of the Pissarro, I do not believe that our Congress would have intended its loss of sovereign immunity.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that the Cassirer family had lost its claim to the Pissarro painting and wrongly identified Judge Ronald M. Gould as the presiding judge in the case.
— Meredith Caraher