TOLEDO BLADE

Suit seeks to affirm ownership of painting
Museum says it acquired Paul Gauguin work fairly
By TAHREE LANE

The Toledo Museum of Art has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, asking for a ruling that it, not the heirs of a Jewish woman who lived in Nazi-era Europe, is the rightful owner of a treasured painting by Paul Gauguin. The museum acquired Street Scene in Tahiti in 1939 and has displayed it almost continually since.
Joining the suit was the Detroit Institute of Arts, which wants the court to say it has clear title to an 1889 painting by Vincent van Gogh, The Diggers, ownership of which is being challenged by the same 16 heirs.
The suit says almost 70 years after the museums bought the paintings, the “distant purported heirs of Mrs. Nathan have repeatedly and deliberately contacted [Toledo Museum of Art] directly and through TMA’s legal counsel, by letter and telephone, to assert their claim to ownership and the right to possession of the Painting, attempting to compel TMA to turn possession over to them or enter into an agreement otherwise resolving their claim.”
In December, 1938, three dealers bought the Gauguin and the Van Gogh for $6,865 and $9,364, respectively.
After World War II and before her death in 1958, Mrs. Nathan sought restitution and recovery of her money, property, and artworks seized by the Nazis, and compensation for assets she sold under duress or at less than fair prices, the Toledo museum research reported.
“None of her claims included or referenced the van Gogh or Gauguin paintings,” the Toledo museum said. Her brother, Willy Dreyfus, was co-executor of her estate until his death in 1977, and the museum’s research indicates he did not challenge the 1938 sale.
Mr. Rowland said his clients want an independent commission to look at the situation, such as sometimes occurs in Germany. He noted that the museum’s research was collected by their representative.
In the last three years, sales of Gauguins have ranged from $1 million to $35 million, and recent sales of van Goghs painted
near the end of his life have ranged from $2.4 million to $10 million, according to ArtPrice.com.