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.