German court rejects collector’s complaint against listing in Nazi-era lost art database

BERLIN (AP) — A German federal court on Friday rejected a collector’s complaint against the inclusion of a painting he bought at auction in a database used to document works which may have been expropriated as a result of Nazi persecution.

The plaintiff, who acquired the painting “Calabrian Coast” by German artist Andreas Achenbach at an auction in London in 1999, argued that the entry in the Lost Art Database and the triggering in Canada of an Interpol search for the work impaired his ownership of it.

He called for the defendants — the trustees of a Canadian trust that manages the estate of Jewish art dealer Max Stern — to desist from asserting ownership of the painting, or to be ordered to have the entry in the database deleted. The collector, whose identity the Federal Court of Justice didn’t publish, was unsuccessful in lower courts.

The federal court ruled that “the announcement of missing cultural property on the Lost Art Database’s web page, if based upon true facts, does not represent an impairment of ownership” and doesn’t entitle the current owner to have the listing deleted.

The court said that the trustees hadn’t asserted that they were the painting’s rightful owners, either in the German database or in an Interpol database entry. It left open whether the collector might have a case against the German-based foundation that operates the Lost Art Database, which wasn’t involved in this legal case.

The painting in question was in the possession of the Stern gallery in Duesseldorf, which Stern ran, from 1931 to 1937. In 1935, he was banned from exercising his profession, though the order wasn’t initially implemented. In March 1937, he sold the painting to an individual from Essen, Germany; and in September that year, he was forced to give up his gallery. He then emigrated to Canada via England.

In 2016, an “announcement of missing cultural property” on the painting was published at the defendants’ request in the Lost Art Database, whose purpose is to bring together heirs of people who may have been dispossessed as a result of Nazi persecution with current owners to find a “just and fair solution.”

The plaintiff was informed of the database entry and the Interpol search while the painting was being exhibited in Baden-Baden, Germany.

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