Second Kokoschka Nazi loot claim rejected

The Art Newspaper 9 September 2009

By Martha Lufkin

New Orleans court rules against claimant who also lost against MFA Boston

Boston. A federal court in New Orleans has rejected a Nazi-loot claim brought against a woman whose family has owned a painting by Oskar Kokoschka since 1946. In July, the federal district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that Sarah Blodgett Dunbar was the rightful owner of Kokoschka’s Portrait of a Youth, 1910, finding against Claudia Seger-Thomschitz of Austria. In May, the same claimant lost a similar lawsuit for a painting by Kokoschka—Two Nudes (Lovers), 1913—at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston.

Retained by MFA Boston: Oskar Kokoschka, Two Nudes (Lovers), 1913 Copyright: MFA Boston 

Seger-Thomschitz says that she is the sole heir of Raimund Reichel, whose father Oskar Reichel transferred the Kokoschka painting and four other works, including the MFA painting, to the Jewish art dealer Otto Kallir in 1938. The family had previously sent the painting to Kallir for exhibition and sale. According to Seger-Thomschitz, Blodgett Dunbar’s mother, Sarah Reed Blodgett-Platt, should have known that the painting could have been stolen from Jewish owners in Europe when she bought it in 1946 from Kallir’s New York dealership, Galerie St Etienne. Blodgett Dunbar received the painting as a bequest from her mother in 1973.  

The court rejected Seger-Thomschitz’s adverse ownership claim, saying that Blodgett Dunbar had possessed the painting for more than ten years and therefore owned it by “prescription” under Louisiana law.  

Any other claims that Seger-Thomschitz asserted for the painting were too late, the court said, because she should have sued within ten years of when she would have known of the alleged loss. Nor did she use due diligence to recover it, such as notifying national or international art loss organisations, the court said. “Other claimants whose property was confiscated by Nazis placed advertisements in international publications and pursued claims for monetary restitution in German courts”, but Seger-Thomschitz and the Reichel family did neither, the court said. Instead, the Reichel family sought and received compensation for the forced sale of real estate and other art, but “never claimed compensation for any of the Kokoschka works that were transferred to Kallir for sale”. While Seger-Thomschitz accuses Kallir of “dealing in stolen art as an agent of the Nazis”, the Reichel family itself knew that the work had been transferred to Kallir, “yet took no action to recover it after the fall of the Nazi regime”. 

The claimant’s “inordinate delay” in bringing the claims would prejudice the owner, the court said, because all the witnesses were dead. 

The court rejected the notion that a US federal law, the Holocaust Victims Redress Act, gave the claimant any right to sue for the painting.
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