In his ruling just weeks before the case was set to go to trial, U.S. District Court judge John Walter dismissed the restitution claim, finding on Monday that the Norton Simon Museum has legal title to the Cranach paintings. Judge Walter didn’t decide on the legality of the 1961 transfer of the painting by the Dutch to Stroganoff-Scherbatoff. Rather, Walter ruled that Desi Goudstikker, Jacques’s widow, and her representatives failed to make a claim on the works in the requisite timeframe required by Dutch law following the conclusion of the war.
According to the judgement, since Goudstikker did not make a claim by 1951, the date required under Dutch law, the paintings became the property of the Dutch state. “Thereafter, the Dutch could buy them, sell them, give them away—do whatever they want,” lawyer Nicholas O’Donnell told Artsy. Since the state had full title—as opposed to acting as a caretaker of the works prior to eventual restitution—the sales to Stroganoff-Scherbatoff and subsequently to Norton Simon are legally sound. For her part, Von Saher has argued that the Dutch restitution process was notoriously callous, and that her family and its representatives didn’t make a claim out of a belief they could not receive a fair hearing.
In a statement, the museum said it was “pleased” with the ruling, adding that the court’s decision is based on “the merits, considering the facts and law at the heart of the dispute.” Through her lawyer, Von Saher disagreed, saying she was “surprised and dismayed” by the decision, while noting she believes it will be reversed on appeal. “I remain undaunted and am confident that I will prevail in the end,” she added.
The Potential Impact