So what if you are the sole heir of a discerning art collector whose collection was seized by the Bolsheviks in the late 1910s? So nothing. Once the United States recognized the Soviet government, nationalization of private property of the Russian citizens became lawful in the eyes of the rest of the world.
On September 22, 2011, the District Court for the Southern District of New York Court decided Konowaloff v. Metropolitan Museum of Art in favor of the Museum. Pierre Konowaloff, alleged heir of Ivan Morozov, a visionary collector, claimed that the collections seized from his relative, including Cezanne’s “Madame Cezanne in the Conservatory,” now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was rightfully his. The Court found that Museum can keep this Cezanne and not owe compensation damages to Konowaloff (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107262). Judge Scheindlin writing opinion upheld rulings that preceded her own by 7 decades and dismissed Konowaloff’s claim on the grounds of the Act of State Doctrine. The opinion included the following: “The act of state that I decline to question here is the act of expropriating the Painting from Morozov. I accept that the Soviet government took ownership of the painting in 1918 through an official act of state, and accordingly, the painting’s sale abroad in 1933 – whether legal or illegal, an act of party or an act of state – becomes irrelevant, as Konowaloff lacks any ownership stake in the painting.”
The Judge also noted: “This is Konowaloff’s second attempt to craft a viable complaint, and its shortcomings are of the sort that cannot be remedied by amendment. Accordingly, I dismiss the Amended Complaint with prejudice.” She was unpersuaded by an Amicus Brief filed by the Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies.
This efforts to recover Morozov legacy were not the first for Konowaloff. In the 2009, Konowaloff sued the Yale University for a Van Gogh painting (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103024), unsuccessfully.
For more, read the Courthouse News Service.