The family of a pre-World War II Jewish art collector may be another step closer to ending a 70-year effort to recover art pieces valued at more than $100 million that were seized during the Nazi occupation of Hungary.
The federal appeals court in Washington, for the second time in four years, rejected Hungary’s request to throw out a lawsuit that seeks the return of 40 pieces of art to the Herzog family. The ruling opens the way for the claims to proceed before a lower court judge.
Baron Mor Lipot Herzog assembled one of Europe’s great private art collections, which included more than 2,000 pieces by artists like El Greco, Diego Velazquez, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet. The art was looted during the Nazi occupation of Hungary and is in the possession of Hungarian museums and a university.
The pieces, which also include paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Anthony van Dyck and Gustave Courbet, are housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. Hungary has refused to hand them back.
The appeals panel said it’ll be up to a lower court judge to determine whether some of the pieces had been returned to the family and lawfully repossessed by Hungary.
The family sued in 2010 after decades of unsuccessfully trying to recover the art.
"For far too long, Holocaust victims and their families have faced an undeniable injustice as they seek to recover art, of which they are the rightful owners, that was stolen from them by the Nazi’s during World War II," Ronald S. Lauder, the head of the World Jewish Congress and the Commission for Art Recovery, said in an emailed statement.
The appeals court rejected Hungary’s claim that it’s immune from U.S. jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. But the panel ordered the lower court judge to drop the Republic of Hungary as a defendant and the lawsuit can proceed against the museums and university actually in possession of the art pieces.
The case is David L. De Csepel v. Republic of Hungary, 16-7042, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).