The Boston Museum of Fine Art has settled with the estate of the former owners of several rare porcelain figurines. The settlement marks the end of the probate and estate litigation surrounding the figurines, which were reportedly stolen from a Jewish family in Nazi-era Germany. The works were apparently stolen during the era of Nazi persecution, and the rightful owners demanded to be paid for the looted items.
This case had some subtleties that are not traditional for Nazi-era art looting, according to experts. The figurines had been sold at an estate auction in 1937, and the money was put into an account at a German bank. When the bank was sold to non-Jewish owners, the Jewish clients were unable to access their money and fled the country. The heirs also argue that the estate sale was conducted illegally in Germany, as the owner of the estate had demanded that her estate be otherwise distributed.
The figurines were bestowed to the museum after traveling to several owners. They are some of the rarest and most complete sets of sculpture from two notable manufacturers. The museum paid the family for the estate’s holdings as a show of solidarity with an oppressed community, but also after facing courtroom action for their legal responsibility in the case.
Estate planning under a fascist regime is difficult enough – but in this case, the heirs finally saw some of their treasures recovered and recouped money for their sale. Estate litigation does not have to do only with contemporaneous estates. In fact, litigation may pertain to legal responsibility for historical holdings. Children and other relatives who have suffered because they have lost valuable historical family heirlooms may have a chance of recovering damages under special conditions like those in this case.
Source: The Boston Globe, “MFA settles Nazi-related claim, keeping rare figurines,” Malcolm Gay, May 04, 2017