Lawyer Seeking Return of Nazi Stolen Art: There is Real Prejudice Against Jewish Claimants
by Zach Pontz
Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ has gone on display at the MOMA today—but not without controversy.
As the New York Post reported last week Rafael Cardoso, a Brazilian curator, claims the painting was owned by his grandfather, Hugo Simon, in the 1920s and 30s. He consigned the work to a Swiss gallery before fleeing Nazi oppression in Germany. It was later acquired by a wealthy Norwegian family.
The current owner of the painting is New York billionaire Leon Black, who bought the pastel piece — one of four versions of “The Scream,” dated 1895 — for $119.9 million at auction earlier this year.
When the painting initially went to auction Cardoso contested it, but was rebuffed, instead the New York Post report says he was offered $250,000 by the seller, Petter Olsen, to go to a charity of his choice—though the donation would have to be in his name.
He rejected the offer.
Cardoso told the New York Post: “We have no interest whatsoever in this except as a moral issue: in the general sense that the legacy of those who were wronged should be remembered and respected,” he said.
So far MOMA has declined to comment.
In an earlier report The Post revealed that many art institutions in the United States have failed to address controversies surrounding the lineage of some of their art works.
The heirs of German painter George Grosz tried to get three works back from the MOMA but said the museum played dirty. Rather than denying guilt they successfully claimed the family had filed their 2009 lawsuit too late.
Raymond Dowd, the lawyer for the Grosz family told The Algemeiner that it will continue to be difficult for people like Rafael Cardoso to hold the art institutions accountable. “If a stolen art work is in a museum, under New York law the true owner can make a demand, then if they’re refused the return of the art work the statute of limitations in which the true owner can sue is three years. But it’s expensive and difficult [to reclaim the stolen artwork] and there’s a real prejudice, especially against Jewish claimants.”
He continued, “There’s the court of public opinion. If people begin to care and study what happened during the holocaust, and care when museums publish falsehoods about the holocaust, public opinion will change.”
But it’s not just individuals who will be responsible for holding art institutions accountable. Says Dowd, “Our country promised in a Washington conference in 1998 to create a restitution commission to assist claimants, and Congress has failed to do this. Austria has done it, Germany has done it, Britain has done it, the Dutch have done it. But the U.S. has not taken it seriously. We have to ask ‘Is the Jewish community going to support a restitution commission?’ If there’s not vocal support from the Jewish community, it simply won’t happen.”