Museum Responds to NY Times Article on Nazi-Era Claims

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On Sunday, June 30, the New York Times published a story in its Arts section titled “Museums Faulted on Restitution of Nazi Looted Art” that mentioned the Toledo Museum of Art as one of several major art institutions that has tried to block claimants from filing suit.  This is a misrepresentation of the facts.  In 2004, a group of people claiming to be “heirs” of a deceased woman (a German of Jewish descent who moved to France prior to the start of the war) filed a restitution claim against the Museum.  That claim alleged that our Paul Gauguin painting “Street Scene in Tahiti” was sold under duress from the Nazis and should be returned to the family.

The Museum extensively researched this claim to determine if it was valid. After many months of investigation at our expense, it was determined that the claim was not founded in fact.  The woman had sold the painting in France before the war began to Jewish art dealers with whom she had previous dealings.  Both TMA and the Detroit Institute of Arts, a co-defendant, presented our findings to the court and to the claimants.  The Museum filed to have the case dismissed on the grounds the statute of limitations had expired.  This court action, which was hinted at by the Times reporter, was to expedite the conclusion of the case (and to mitigate the extraordinary additional legal costs associated with going to trial). In 2007, in light of the evidence presented, the family members dropped their claim.

It is unfortunate that the NYT did not contact us prior to writing their story so we could give them the facts.  Nor did they refer to our website where the court judgment and additional press information is listed at: http://www.toledomuseum.org/press/downloadable-press-releases/.

The Toledo Museum of Art has been involved in the recent repatriation of two objects, one of which was part of a Nazi-era theft before making its way onto the legitimate art market and being sold to TMA.  When there is clear and compelling evidence to prove that we do not have valid ownership, we have acted decisively to return those objects to their rightful owners.  There is no current claim against any object in the TMA collection.


4 Responses to “Museum Responds to NY Times Article on Nazi-Era Claims”

  1. R. Gregory Stein says:

    The New York Times article was very disturbing. However as your comments indicate, not all of the facts were fully presented. Very sloppy reporting by the writer of the article. I read the 2006 decision of Toledo Federal Judge Zouhary. In his decision, he referenced facts that convinced me of the legitimacy of the ownership of the Gauguin painting by the TMA. Mrs. Nathan sold the Gauguin piece to three art dealers outside of Germany. She had previous transactions with these same art dealers in the past. Her sale of the painting was voluntary, and was not a forced sale. She had other items either seized by the Nazis or forced to be sold by the Nazis at below market prices, all subsequent to her voluntary sale of the Gauguin painting. After the war, Mrs. Nathan pursued claims for items that were confiscated or forced to be sold at below market value by the Nazis. The Gauguin painting was not one of those items. After Mrs. Nathan died in 1958, her estate continued to pursue claims for items illegally seized or forced to be sold by the Nazis. The Gauguin painting was never one of those items. It is absolutely clear to me that the sale of the Gauguin painting by Mrs. Nathan to the three art dealers before the war was a legitimate arms length sale, and that the subsequent purchase of the painting by the TMA from one of those art dealers in May, 1939, was a legitimate arms length purchase by the TMA. The article by the New York Times did a serious disservice to the TMA, and an apology, at the very least should be forthcoming from the newspaper. Also, it would be totally in order for the New York Times to issue a correction to the story based upon the facts determined by Judge Zouhary and recited in his December, 2006 order granting judgment in favor of the TMA. A pat on the back to the TMA for addressing the the incorrect statements in the New York Times article in a prompt and forthright manner. The TMA is one of the outstanding assets of our area, and it has a great reputation in the art world for not only its art collection but also for the integrity by which that collection was obtained.

  2. [...] the piece — the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), and in response the institution has posted a vigorous self-defense on both its homepage and Facebook [...]

  3. L. Connolly says:

    It appears TMA has always done research necessary to ethically & morally clear its way before purchasing items for collections. It is surprising the NYT reporter did not use the same care.

  4. J Lee says:

    I am surprised that they issued such a long article just to excuse themselves and say, “our bad”. A quick apology instead of the long justification and diversion of issue would have been better. Maybe they thought no one would notice?


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