As readers of my blogs likely know by now, I love learning about restitution. I was thus quite intrigued to read this recent CNN article regarding a claim by the Prince of Prussia.
Georg Friedrich (also known by his legal surname, the Prince of Prussia) (and also apparently 202nd in line to the British throne), has quite the lineage. His ancestors include Brandenburg electors from 1415, Prussian kings from 1701, German emperors, and importantly, Germany’s last Kaiser, Wilhelm II (also known as Crown Prince Wilhelm).
The Prince has inherited the awe-inspiring Hohenzollern Castle (please take a look at it) located in southern Germany. But that is not all. Based on a promise made to his grandfather, the Prince has continued to pursue a dispute against the German authorities to reclaim part of his family’s fortune that was confiscated after the fall of the Nazis. Apparently, in addition to the promise, the grandfather’s will states that he explicitly expects the Prince to follow his footsteps in pursuing this claim.
Since German law disqualifies those who ‘substantially supported’ the Nazis from any form of restitution or compensation for lost property, the key to the Prince’s argument will be to prove that his ancestors did not help the Nazis. In addition to other forms of evidence, both the German government and the Prince have commissioned historians to examine Crown Prince Wilhelm’s relationship with the Nazi party. This includes reviewing historical photos and statements made by the Crown Prince.
What makes the legal issue even more fascinating is that while the law excludes corporations, such as Volkswagen and BMW from making these claims, it is unclear if former royals are excluded as well. Nevertheless, it appears that some royals have secured restitution – Michael, Prince of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, dropped his 2003 restitution claim for artworks, manuscripts and the inventory of the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach, in return for €15.5 million.
Those interested in restitution, as well as old-world monarchy, castles, and beautiful works of art, should follow this story.
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With so much taking place around us now, I forced myself to choose a topic for today’s blog that, although still estates related (this being, after all, an estates blog), allows me to think about something beautiful. I landed on art.
Full disclosure: I have blogged about art and estates before. See here and here for some shameless self-promotion. Without wanting to revisit these topics, I did some searching and was intrigued by this Financial Times article about the Art Loss Register (ALR).
The ALR is the world’s largest private database for lost and stolen art, antiques, and collectibles. Their services are essentially twofold. First, the ALR assists to deter the theft of art by promoting the registration of all items of valuable possession on its database and also the expansion of checking searches. Second, by operating a due diligence service to sellers of art, the ALR operates a recovery service to return works of art to their rightful owners. In addition, the ALR has expanded to negotiate compensation to the victims of art theft and the legitimising of current ownership.
In addition to art dealers, insurers, and museums, the ALR also assists private individuals including beneficiaries and trustees. A trustee who is intending to liquidate art may wish to rely on the ALR to prove title and authenticity, thereby potentially increasing value and mitigating risk of fraud.
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This week on Hull on Estates, Jonathon Kappy and Lisa Haseley discuss criminal implications of breaching fiduciary duties.
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Cornelius Gurlitt passed away in May 2014, aged 81, and is well known amongst the art community for his vast collection of famous works of art ranging from Chagall to Picasso. A recent article in the Guardian highlights the storied controversy surrounding Gurlitt’s estate and the steps taken to comply with his Will.
Much of Gurlitt’s famed art collection was passed down to him by his parents and grandparents who allegedly obtained much of the artwork by Nazi theft during World War II. In 2012, during a tax investigation, German customs officials discovered over 1,000 pieces of art worth an estimated 1 billion euros.
According to the Wall Street Journal, while on his deathbed, Gurlitt apparently signed a Will bequeathing his estate (including the artwork) to a small museum in Bern, Switzerland, the Kunstmuseum Bern, on the condition that the museum take steps to determine which works had been stolen by the Nazis and to return those pieces of art to their rightful heirs. Apparently the choice of a foreign institution was made on the basis that Gurlitt felt the German government had treated him unjustly.
It appears that in the event the museum declined the collection, it would pass to Gurlitt’s distant relatives. Concern arose that in the event these relatives beneficially received the artwork, it would be difficult to ensure they complied with Gurlitt’s instructions for restitution. As such, pundits urged the museum to take on the task to ensure that the research into the artwork was done professionally and responsibly.
The museum has since accepted the artwork, with sorrow, and is showcasing Gurlitt’s pieces in conjunction with a second museum in Bonn, Germany, the Budeskunsthalle. Although the showcasing in Bonn seems contrary to Gurlitt’s request for a foreign museum, the museum is nonetheless following Gurlitt’s most prominent wish to ensure stolen artwork is returned.
Proceedings were commenced by the distant relatives to challenge the Last Will on the basis that Gurlitt was not of sound mind when drafting the Will. A successful Will challenge would result in the artwork passing to them. The proceeding was dismissed by a German Judge, while an appeal remains pending.
I find Estates intertwined with famed art to be an enjoyable topic to research and read, as per my prior blog about the 2015 movie, Woman in Gold. Perhaps though, it’s just an excuse to admire such beautiful artwork, with Gurlitt’s collection being one of the best.