SF Court Rules for Norton Simon Museum to Keep Nazi-Looted Paintings

"Adam" and "Eve" painted by German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder around 1530
"Adam" and "Eve" painted by German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder around 1530
(Wikimedia Commons)

In a long running case, a federal appeals court ruled Monday that a Southern California museum can keep a pair of prized 16th century paintings that an heiress of a Dutch art dealer has sought since the 1990s. The Renaissance paintings were looted by the Nazis during World War II, and the court determined that the dealer's family previously gave up the chance to restitute the artworks, thus the art was then legally purchased by the museum.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena to keep the life-sized masterpieces "Adam" and "Eve," painted about 1530 by German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. Heiress Marei von Saher sought the artworks that once belonged to her father-in-law, Jacques Goudstikker, a Jewish art collector. He perished after fleeing the Nazis in the Netherlands, leaving behind some 1,200 artworks.

In a forced sale, Nazi Hermann Göring took control of Goudstikker's company and collection in 1940. 

After the war, when the Dutch government offered to return Nazi loot, the family relinquished claims, due to financial reasons. In 1966, a Russian aristocrat bought the Cranach pair, and then sold them to the Norton Simon in 1971.

The Netherlands’ highest court found in 1999 that von Saher’s family “had consciously foregone their restoration rights” in the paintings, Judge M. Margaret McKeown said in the latest ruling.

“Second-guessing the Dutch government would violate our commitment to respect the finality of appropriate actions taken by foreign nations to facilitate the internal restitution of plundered art.”

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