Elizabeth Taylor fights for Van Gogh painting

Reuters (UK) 27 May 2004

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Film legend Elizabeth Taylor has asked a judge to declare her the lawful owner of a Van Gogh painting that heirs of a former owner say was stolen by the Nazis.

In a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Los Angeles, the Oscar-winning actress said she bought "View of the Asylum and Chapel at Saint-Remy," painted in 1889, at a Sotheby's & Co. auction in London in 1963.

The lawsuit said four people claiming to be heirs of the painting's former owner, Margarete Mauthner, contacted Taylor's manager to demand its return or the proceeds from its sale.

Although the claimants believe Mauthner, a Berlin resident, lost the painting to the Nazis, evidence shows that she sold it in 1933 "for financial reasons," the lawsuit said.

According to the catalogue from the 1963 auction, the painting passed from Mauthner to two reputable galleries before it was sold to a German Jew, Alfred Wolf, who himself fled the Nazis in 1933 for Buenos Aires, the lawsuit said.

Mauthner's sale of her Van Gogh collection to finance her family's emigration to South Africa also was documented in a 2001 German book, the lawsuit said.

Taylor bought the painting for $257,000 (140,000 pounds) from Wolf's estate and tried unsuccessfully to sell it in 1990 for $10 million, the suit said.

While Taylor "has great sympathy for those whose families lost their possessions" during World War Two and the Holocaust, the defendants "have not provided a shred of evidence that the painting ever fell into Nazi hands," the lawsuit said.

The violet-eyed actress also argued that the defendants' claim to the painting should be barred by the statute of limitations, which expired three years after Taylor purchased the painting.

"When they sit on their alleged rights for decades before attempting to dispossess an innocent, good-faith purchaser, the law owes them no special deference," the suit said.
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