New York, NY. Nixon Peabody client Richard Nagy, a London art dealer, did not act improperly in acquiring two drawings by renowned artist Egon Schiele or offering them for public sale, according to a decision by the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department.
Thaddeus Stauber, representing Mr. Nagy, argued that the artworks, Woman in a Black Pinafore (1911) and Woman Hiding Her Face (1912) were acquired “in good faith and in a commercially reasonable manner” following several findings that artworks with a similar relevant provenance had not been stolen by the Nazis as the heirs of Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grünbaum claimed.
These findings include:
In addition, several Holocaust provenance experts were asked to consider the claims regarding the artworks’ World War II–era history. They include Dr. Sophie Lillie, an Austrian provenance expert who provided the expert report that helped in the return of Gustave Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (The Women in Gold) to its rightful heirs; Laurie Stein, who serves as a provenance expert to the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a researcher for the German Gurlitt Commission; and Lynn Nicholas, advisor to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Era Assets and author of the groundbreaking book The Rape of Europa, an account of Nazi plunder of looted art treasures from occupied countries. Her honors include the Légion d’Honneur by France and the Amicus Poloniae by Poland.
Before the New York State Supreme Court, First Department, on Mr. Nagy’s behalf, Nixon Peabody argued that under the Holocaust Art Restitution Act (HEAR Act) and in light of documented evidence, prior decisions finding the art collection not stolen, and the detailed expert reports that Mr. Nagy had acted reasonably in acquiring the artworks and that the question of the modern-day ownership of the artworks and whether or not the artworks had been stolen called for a trial on the merits. While the court agreed that the lower court erred in awarding a penalty of attorney’s fee against Mr. Nagy, it affirmed the lower court’s decision against holding a trial on the merits and awarding ownership to the modern-day claimants.
Following the recent decision, Mr. Stauber said, “We are pleased that the First Department Court determined that Richard Nagy did not act improperly in acquiring the artworks and offering them for public sale. We are disappointed that the Court did not rule that a trial on the merits was necessary here, and instead disregarded the careful expert reports commissioned from respected provenance experts. As numerous decisions, including from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, have previously found that this collection of artworks was not stolen during World War II after conducting a trial on the merits, it is hard to reconcile this recent decision and thus we are reviewing further appellate options.”
The Nixon Peabody team consists of Nixon Peabody partners Thaddeus Stauber and Kristin Jamberdino.