Art, law, and paintings looted by Nazis all intersect in a battle that lasted ten years and was considered settled just a few weeks ago, but is now once again rearing its head in the 9th circuit federal appeals court.
Pasadena’s famed Norton Simon Museum has been in possession of a pair of paintings titled Adam and Eve, since 1971 painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a German Renaissance painter and printmaker. The paintings were purchased from George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff who claimed to be an heir to the paintings’ owner. Stroganoff-Scherbatoff purchased them from the Dutch government in 1966. Marei von Saher, a descendant of a Dutch art collector named Jacques Goudstikker, claims that she, not the Norton Simon, or Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, is the rightful owner of the paintings.
Goudstikker was forced to sell his art collection for a pittance to Nazi Hermann Göring during World War II. The pieces were eventually returned to the Dutch government after Goudstikker had died and his widow, Desi, unconvinced of fair treatment, did not go to battle to with the government to reclaim them; as such, they become available to sell.
In a complex legal battle, the appeals court most recently ruled in favor of the Norton Simon, upholding earlier decisions citing that the United States had no authority to overturn the Netherlands’ 1966 decision to sell Adam and Eve.