Art Law: Federal Administrative Court Rules on Deletion of Entries in the Lost Art Database

von Peter Bert

In May 2014, I had reported the decision of the Administrative Court of Appeal (Oberverwaltungsgericht) Magdeburg in a dispute about the deletion of a painting in the Lost Art database, once the painting had been found. The Administrative Court of Appeal at the time had held that, once a painting has been found, it must be deleted from the Lost Art database, as otherwise, the continued registration of the artwork would “taint” it and make it unmarketable. In a judgment issued on February 19, 2015, this decision has now been overruled by the Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht).

A quick recap of the facts: In 2005, the heirs of a Jewish art dealer had registered a search entry in the Lost Art database for a painting known as “Portrait of an Old Man in Traditional Oriental Costume” (Bildnis eines alten Mannes in orientalischer Tracht). It was at the time believed to be a Rembrandt. Today, it is attributed to Isaac Jouderville. The story behind their request to enter the painting in the database was as follows: Their ancestor fled Berlin in April 1933 to escape arrest by the Gestapo. The art work left behind in his gallery was sold, at an undervalue, in Nazi Germany in 1935. Since then, it was unknown were “The “Portrait of an Old Man” was located and who had possession.

In 2009, the painting was located in South Africa. The heirs subsequently applied to the Lost Art database to delete their search entry. The Coordination Office for Lost Cultured Assets (Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg) did not comply with that request, on the basis that in 2009, competing claims to the painting had been made by another group of heirs, namely of the shareholders of a bank which had acquired the painting in 1935. This second group had not agreed to it being deleted in the database ...

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