Major International Art Litigation
We are the leading international attorneys with reported precedent-setting cases involving masterpieces that have shaped the state of the law today. When priceless artworks and cultural property are at stake, clients in the domestic and international arts and cultural community need lawyers who can successfully resolve high-profile and high-stakes matters.
Our international experience and art industry savvy provide our clients with a distinctive advantage and industry insight proven to drive the client’s desired result. Where others have had to settle, we have an unmatched courthouse record when prosecuting or defending clients’ art-related rights, earning groundbreaking resolutions and acquisitions.
We have successfully represented our clients’ interests in courtroom trials and proceedings throughout the U.S. and in arbitral bodies worldwide, including controversies spanning Europe, Asia and South America. Most recently, we argued and won highly contested cases in state and federal courts ranging from New York to California, Ohio to Louisiana and Washington DC to Chicago.
Major Art Transactions
Equally regarded for our dealmaking experience, the team works with foreign countries, museums, artists, major collectors and dealers in significant art and cultural property commercial transactions.
We assist clients with the unique issues around owning, collecting and operating in today’s international art world such as:
- Major gift and development agreements
- Masterpiece acquisitions, sales and financing
- Copyright and licensing
- Auction house consignments
- UCC security filings
- Artist consignment protection statutes Visual Arts Rights Act (VARA) claims
General Counsel: Art Industry
We provide outside general counsel guidance to the international arts and cultural community and help get the most difficult deals done. Our clients include private companies and individuals involved in the art industry.
Who we work with
- Foreign sovereigns
- Museums and cultural institutions
- International art collectors and dealers
- Foundations and estates
- Colleges and universities
- Private equity investors
- Commercial real estate entities
- Entertainment-related companies
Reported International Art Disputes
- The National Gallery, London—Oliver Williams, et al. v. The National Gallery, London et al., Case No. 16-cv-06978-AT-JCF (S.D.N.Y). Lead defense counsel in an art restitution case regarding the safekeeping of The National Gallery of London’s Matisse painting Portrait of Greta Moll (1908). We are focused on the U.S. courts properly limiting their role and, if a case proceeds, that they properly apply the applicable laws.
- Reif v. Nagy. Defending London art dealer Richard Nagy in New York state court in adverse ownership claim to two Egon Schiele artworks. This is the first case involving art title insurance.
- David de Csepel v. Republic of Hungary. Representing the Republic of Hungary and four Hungarian cultural institutions in an action challenging Hungary’s possession of more than 40 works of art. The issue of first impression in this case is whether the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty, 1973 Hungary-U.S. Bilateral Agreement and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) allow a U.S. court to take jurisdiction over a foreign sovereign in an internationally watched art restitution claim referred to in the New York Times as “the world’s largest unresolved Holocaust art claim.” On September 1, 2011, the district court dismissed certain of the plaintiffs’ claims and confirmed Hungary’s rightful ownership to 11 important paintings. On December 16, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia certified the September 1, 2011, decision for interlocutory appeal on the key issues raised by Nixon Peabody’s team regarding the remaining claim and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted Hungary’s petition for permission to review these issues.
- Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation. Counsel to the world-renowned Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation. Successfully refuted a challenge to the Foundation’s ownership and possession of important artwork by Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. We drafted the petition for a writ of certiorari on our client’s behalf challenging jurisdiction under the FSIA. After the Supreme Court called for the views of the solicitor general, we met with the deputy solicitor general and members of the U.S. Departments of State and Justice. Following the meeting, the Office of the Solicitor General recommended that the Kingdom of Spain be dismissed. On remand to the district court, we prevailed on a motion to dismiss on the ground that a newly enacted California statute, which expanded the statute of limitations to permit plaintiffs’ claims, was preempted by the federal government’s foreign affairs power. On remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, we prevailed on a Motion for Summary Judgment.
- Maya Widmaier-Picasso. Led negotiations for a high-profile, international case representing the daughter of the late artist Pablo Picasso in a $115 million dispute over Picasso’s 1931 sculpture titled Bust of a Woman (Marie-Thérèse). Worked tirelessly across the globe to resolve proceedings in France, Switzerland and New York to establish the sculpture’s owner and maintain a record-setting sale as reported in the international press.
- The University of Oklahoma. Represented the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma Foundation when their ownership of Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep (1886), a historic painting by Camille Pissarro, was challenged. The team achieved a successful resolution for the University and all parties. The settlement agreement acknowledges the good faith of the University, the OU Foundation and the Meyer family, as well as that of the donor Weitzenhoffer family. The agreement results in the painting continuing to be on permanent public display and available for educational purposes, with display evenly rotating between the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and a museum institution in France.
- DIA & TMA v. Nathan. Plaintiffs’ counsel leading the international provenance investigation and victory for the Detroit Institute of Arts and Toledo Museum of Art in companion federal court cases brought in the Sixth Circuit establishing the museums’ rightful ownership to priceless van Gogh and Gauguin paintings over that of U.S. and foreign claimants. These were the first U.S. museums to file and win declaratory actions in federal court lawsuits arising from post–World War II Holocaust-related art restitution claims.
- JFK Terminal One. Represented Terminal One’s ownership of unique terminal art installation’s contested relocation under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). After an arbitration hearing, brokered resolution that allowed for the relocation of artwork within the terminal while providing for modernization of terminal facilities.
- The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)—Fisher Collection Agreement allows display of renowned private collection. Served as lead counsel and advisor on the agreement between SFMOMA and the family of Doris and the late Donald Fisher, co-founders of the Gap Inc., to showcase the Fishers’ renowned 1,100-piece private collection of modern and contemporary artwork as part of the museum’s expansion. The firm also supported SFMOMA’s efforts to raise landmark contributions of $250 million, used to expand the museum and grow its endowment. SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra said Nixon Peabody was “critical to helping us realize our collective goal of bringing the Fisher Collection to SFMOMA and defining the museum’s future expansion.” Charles R. Schwab, SFMOMA’s Board Chairman, also said Nixon Peabody’s “negotiating skills, sense of urgency and advice were essential in guiding our board to a successful and long-lasting agreement with the Fisher Trust.”
- Dunbar v. Seger-Thomschitz Louisiana law trumps Terezin Declaration. Won a landmark decision at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed that a New Orleans family is the rightful owner of a prized early painting by noted German Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka. The ruling shows that the Terezin Declaration, which many have argued requires reopening art restitution claims arising from World War II, does not trump state law in such claims. The courts rejected the claimant’s argument that Louisiana prescription laws should in this case give way to “federal common law,” and recognized that the family’s ownership of the painting had been open and continuous for well over 10 years, fulfilling the requirements to establish ownership by acquisitive prescription under Louisiana law.
- Detroit Institute of Arts and the Toledo Museum of Art Ownership rights, World War II-related claims. Successfully represented the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Toledo Museum of Art in landmark cases involving paintings by van Gogh (The Diggers—1889) and Gauguin (Street Scene in Tahiti—1891). We coordinated the museums’ international provenance research, advised the museum leadership and boards and, in compliance with the American Association of Museums (AMA) and Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) Guidelines on World War II-related art claims, succeeded in defending the museums’ ownership rights in reported federal court cases.
- School of the Art Institute of Chicago v. Art Institutes International. Plaintiff’s lead counsel in successful federal common law trade name infringement case in Seventh Circuit District Court against international trade school.
- Fourcaud v. LACMA. Led successful defense and dismissal of adverse ownership claims to world famous Pushkin Museum French Impressionist paintings while on exhibition in the U.S. from Russia. Claims arose from Russian Revolution and nationalization of famous art collections by Stalin and were brought in the Ninth Circuit Federal Court by a French citizen.
Special Art-Related Agreements
- The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Helped implement the foundation’s art gift/bargain sale initiative leading to the placement of Rauschenberg’s groundbreaking 1970’s cardboard series works in major U.S. museums. Created a unique Fair Use Policy for the Foundation. This first-of-its-kind policy for an artist-endowed foundation leads the way with regard to copyright fair use in the arts as it makes images of Robert Rauschenberg’s artwork more accessible to museums, scholars, artists and the public.
- Art collection management, provenance authentication and exhibition projects. Dealings with significant artworks and donor agreements for major institutions including among others: Yale University Art Gallery, LACMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Whitney Museum, Harvard and SMU.
- Art Institute of Chicago and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Special counsel on major art transactions, donor agreements and museum expansion projects and school faculty and MFA student matters.
- Artist and gallery commission, consignment and sales agreements and auction house deals. Negotiation and management of artist exhibition, copyright, trademark and licensing agreements, along with general counsel advice.