February 22, 2024
Court Rejects Collector's Attempt to Remove Painting from Nazi-Era Lost Art Database

The collector’s attempt to de-list a painting from the Lost Art Database, documenting artworks separated from Jewish owners during the Nazi era, has failed. The German federal court ruled against the collector’s claim, upholding the painting’s status in the database aimed at reuniting looted assets with their rightful heirs. The painting in question, “Calabrian Coast” by Andreas Achenbach, has a complicated history linked to a Jewish-German art collector, Max Stern, who was forced to part with it under Nazi duress in 1937. Despite the setback for the collector, the legal battle’s outcome leaves room for further developments.

Court Rejects Collector's Attempt to Remove Painting from Nazi-Era Lost Art Database

The Painting History and Ownership:

“Calabrian Coast (1861)” by Andreas Achenbach was previously owned by Max Stern, a Jewish-German art collector. Under Nazi rule, Stern was prohibited from selling his artworks in 1935. In 1937, likely under duress, he parted with the painting. Subsequently, in 1999, the artwork was acquired at a London auction by Wolfgang Peiffer, who is believed to be the collector behind the lawsuit and the current owner of the painting. In 2016, Peiffer loaned the artwork to a Baden-Baden exhibition, prompting the Max Stern Art Restitution Project to list it as lost on the Lost Art Database, triggering an Interpol search.

Legal Battle and Failed Attempt:

In 2019, Peiffer filed a lawsuit against the Foundation in a lower German court, claiming that the listing of the painting on the Lost Art Database indicated the Foundation’s ownership claim over the artwork. Peiffer’s argument was that Stern had willingly sold the painting, and its inclusion in the database made it impossible to sell. However, the lower court rejected Peiffer’s claim, asserting that the Foundation’s registration on the database did not equate to an ownership claim. Undeterred, Peiffer pursued the case in the federal court, yet the outcome remained unchanged, as the court deemed the database listing as not constituting an impairment of ownership.

Uncertain Future and Possible Avenues:

Following the federal court’s ruling, it remains uncertain how the legal battle will progress. Peiffer has the option to either directly file a lawsuit against the Lost Art Database or approach the court to ascertain the true ownership of the painting. Presently, the Stern Foundation has refrained from making any formal claim for restitution of the artwork.

The Max Stern Painting Restitution Project’s Successes:

Despite the recent legal challenges, the Max Stern Art Restitution Project has achieved significant milestones in restitution efforts. Eleven works that once belonged to Max Stern have been successfully restituted, including another artwork by Andreas Achenbach, “Scandinavian Landscape (1837),” and a piece titled “A Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe (1632)” by an unknown Northern Netherlandish artist.

Conclusion:

The court’s decision to uphold the painting’s listing on the Lost Art Database represents a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts to address Nazi-era looted art. While the collector’s attempt was unsuccessful, the case’s outcome opens the door to potential future legal actions. As the legal landscape continues to evolve, the restitution efforts led by the Max Stern Art Restitution Project remain vital in reclaiming lost cultural heritage and acknowledging the historical injustices inflicted during the Nazi era.