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Recent Developments on the Herzog Collection — Nixon Peabody Advises Hungary with Restitution Issues

Herzog Family Sues for Return of Art Collection

Nixon Peabody, firm with an Arts and Cultural Institutions Team led by Thaddeus J. Stauber, is representing the Republic of Hungary and the Hungarian National Gallery in a case involving the Herzog Collection. On Feb. 15, 2011, the firm moved to dismiss a complaint filed by United States citizen David L. de Csepel and two Italian citizen-relatives alleging that the claims resolved by the U.S. government in a 1973 agreement with Hungary.

Claimants are seeking custody and control of at least 40 artworks that were once part of the Herzog Collection, formerly belonging to Baron Mór Lipót Herzog (1869–1934). The case may be hard to win because in 1973, Hungary and the United States entered into an agreement settling all WWII and communist-era property claims between the two countries and their respective nationals. Pursuant to the agreement, Hungary a certain sum in exchange for the United States settling all claims by U.S. nationals seeking recovery of property taken by Hungary between 1939 and 1973. Apparently Hungary and Italy had entered into a similar agreement.

The heirs of Baron Herzog, filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 27, 2010 seeking to recover the art taken in the early 1940s that either remained in or came into the possession of Hungarian government museums. The art in question includes works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zurbarán, and Gustave Courbet. Claimants maintain a website about the collection and their legal actions. For copies of the briefs and a sampling of press articles, visit Commission for Art Recovery.

On its face, if the United States was under an obligation to resolve individual nationals’ claims and distribute the Hungarian reparations pursuant to the 1973 agreement, this claim may not be resolved in a court setting unless heirs can prove bad faith on behalf of the Hungarian government and museums in dealing with the heirs in the aftermath of the war.