The Sunday Times 14 October 2004
LOS ANGELES – The heirs of a victim of Germany’s Nazi rule on Wednesday sued screen icon Elizabeth Taylor for ownership of a Van Gogh painting they claim rightfully belongs to them.
The South African and Canadian descendants of a Jewish woman who fled Germany in the late 1930s say the actress should have known when she bought the painting for $257,600 in 1963 that it had been stolen by the Nazis.
The suit was filed in Los Angeles after the 72-year-old movie legend filed court papers in May seeking a declaration that she is the rightful owner of the 1889 painting by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh.
Double Oscar-winner Taylor, 72 bought "View of the Asylum and Chapel at Saint-Remy" at a Sotheby's auction in London in 1963, at the height of her fame and now keeps it at her Los Angeles home.
But the heirs of Margarete Mauthner says the work was wrongfully acquired by the Nazis around the time of World War II and that Taylor and her representatives should have been aware of its origins.
"We are asserting that Ms Taylor was negligent and careless when she bought the painting," said Andrew Orkin, a Canadian lawyer who identified himself as Mauthner's great-grandson.
"Our complaint charges that she ignored numerous conspicuous 'red flags' in 1963 that the painting had likely been confiscated from a victim of Nazi persecution," Orkin said.
Orkin said Mauthner fled Berlin to South Africa in 1939 after having lost most of their property, including the painting, as a result of "Nazi economic and political coercion" and that the family was therefore entitled to reclaim it under the 1998 US Holocaust Victims Redress Act.
Taylor's representatives were not immediately available for comment on the lawsuit.
But she claimed in her papers filed in May that Orkin and his family had failed to show that the artwork was ever illegally seized from Mauthner.
"Defendants have provided not a shred of evidence that the painting ever fell into Nazi hands or any specific information concerning how or when Mauthner 'lost possession' of it," her document stated.
Taylor maintains that the catalogue from the auction at which she bought the piece stated that it had once belonged to Mauthner, but that it passed to two reputable galleries before it was sold to a German Jew, Alfred Wolf, who himself fled the Nazis in 1933. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/