Thursday, June 9, 2016

On June 7, two Senate Judiciary Subcommittees held a joint hearing on recently introduced legislation that could provide a new avenue to aid in the recovery of stolen or looted Nazi-era artwork.

Emmy-award winning actress Dame Helen Mirren was part of the panel of witnesses, in part because of her portrayal of Maria Altmann in the 2015 film Woman in Gold, a true story about the return of a Nazi-looted painting being held and exhibited by the Austrian government.

Mirren was joined by Ronald Lauder, chairman of the council for the World Jewish Restitution Organization and former American ambassador to Austria; Monica Dugot, international director of restitution at Christie's Inc.; Agnes Peresztegi, president of the Commission for Art Recovery; and Simon Goodman, heir to another collection stolen by the Nazis.   

The Senators on the committee showed commitment to get the bill to a future vote. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the full committee, stated he “will put it on the agenda” when the “authors feel it is ready to put on the agenda.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) likewise said he hoped it “can pass as soon as possible.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), while acknowledging the difficulty of proving ownership and that some transfers of property were unrecorded, termed the matter a “principle of justice” more valuable than economics.

At the close of the hearing, which included the display of artwork, Mirren said to the assembly, “Art is incredibly important. … Our existence on this planet will be communicated to future generations through our art.”

The bill would reopen expired statutes of limitations to assist civil claims in recovering artwork or other cultural property unlawfully lost because of persecution during the Nazi era between Jan. 1, 1933, and Dec. 31, 1945. Text of the legislation is available here.