Court Rules in Favor of Norton Simon Museum, Nazi-Seized Art Will Stay on Display in Pasadena

Published : Monday, July 30, 2018 | 2:23 PM

Detail of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Eve (circa 1530). Image: Norton Simon Museum

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena can keep two 16th- century masterpieces depicting Adam and Eve by the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, that were seized by the Nazis from a Jewish art dealer in 1940.

In a decision released Monday, a panel in the appeals court in Pasadena affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in 2016 in favor of the museum, saying the appellate court cannot overturn “sovereign acts” of the Dutch government.

The case had started after Marei von Saher sought to recover the two oil paintings that were among a group of artworks taken by the Nazis in a forced sale from Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, von Saher’s father-in-law, during World War II.

After the war, the Allied Forces returned the paintings to the Dutch government. In 1966, the Dutch government sold the paintings to George Stroganoff-Sherbatoff, a Russian collector, who in turn sold the paintings to the Norton Simon Museum in 1971.

In 2007, von Saher sued the museum in federal court in Los Angeles, claiming she was the rightful owner of the art.

In Monday’s decision, the appeals court determined that the Dutch government owned the title to the works, collectively called the Cranachs, when officials sold the paintings to Stroganoff-Sherbatoff.

In a concurring opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said the issue was resolved in 2012 when the district court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiff’s claims conflicted with U.S. policy on recovered art.

The panel applied the act of state doctrine, which requires that the acts of foreign sovereigns taken within their own jurisdictions shall be deemed valid.