Ownership of Matisse painting by Nixon Peabody client, the National Gallery, London, withstands challenge as U.S. Supreme Court denies claimants’ petition for review

March 18, 2019

Senior Manager, Media Relations
Nicholas Braude

New York, NY. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the claimants’ request for further review of a case brought against Nixon Peabody client the National Gallery, London, challenging the Gallery’s ownership of Portrait of Greta Moll, which French artist Henri Matisse painted in 1908.

Three grandchildren of Greta Moll had demanded that the National Gallery pay $30 million compensation or return the painting. The Gallery has owned and publicly displayed the painting since its 1979 good-faith acquisition. Prior to the claimants’ filing of the U.S. lawsuit, the Gallery had shared with the claimants information it held on the provenance of the painting and invited them into the Gallery to inspect all the papers it held in relation to the painting’s history and provenance.

In a lengthy decision, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recognized that the painting was not taken “in violation of international law,” to strip the National Gallery of its presumptive sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. That decision was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in a unanimous three-judge summary order. The Supreme Court’s action today leaves the Second Circuit’s decision in place and puts a decisive end to the claimant’s adverse ownership claims.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the claimants’ petition for a writ of certiorari; the claimants have no further avenues for judicial review in the United States,” said Thaddeus J. Stauber and Sarah Erickson André of Nixon Peabody. “As the historical record established, the Matisse painting was purchased in good faith by the National Gallery, and it is gratifying to know that it will remain with the National Gallery and shared with the public.”

The case is Williams et al v. The National Gallery, London, The American Friends of the National Gallery, London, Inc., and the United Kingdom (No. 18-997).

More about the National Gallery and the decision can be found on the National Gallery’s website: www.nationalgallery.org.uk

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