Wildensteins Lose Lawsuit - court of appeals turns down family's claim against art historian

Art in America July 2000
By Raphael Rubinstein

A French court has again rejected a lawsuit brought by the Wildenstein family of art dealers against American author Hector Feliciano. In a May 13 decision, a court of appeals in Paris upheld a lower judge's ruling from last year that turned down the Wildensteins' claim for $850,000 in damages from Feliciano. The lawsuit was in response to assertions in Feliciano's 1995 book Le Musee perdu (published in the U.S. in 1997 as The Lost Museum [see A.i.A., Feb. '98]) that during World War II the Wildensteins had dealings in stolen art with the Nazis in occupied France. (The lawsuit also requested that all references to the Wildensteins be removed from future editions of Le Musee perdu.) In addition to alleging commerce in stolen art, Feliciano suggested that a group of valuable illuminated manuscripts still in the Wildensteins' possession rightfully belongs to the heirs of French collector Alphonse Kann.

Part of the Wildensteins' argument was that during the German occupation, the activities of the clan's Paris gallery were guided by a former employee, Roger Duquoy, rather than by Georges Wildenstein. (Under the anti-Semitic regulations of occupied France, the Wildensteins, as Jews, were compelled to relinquish their gallery.) This claim, too, the court rejected, finding that Georges Wildenstein remained in contact with Duquoy throughout the war.

These recent legal decisions have been welcomed by those involved in the search for art looted by the Nazis, but they have also met with approval from a very different quarter: the notorious British historian David Irving. Recently, Irving lost his own libel suit against an American historian who had accused him of denying the Holocaust. His Web site, called "David Irving's Action Report," has posted Associated Press reports of both Wildenstein-Feliciano decisions. As well as chronicling Irving's legal troubles, the site features stories about other "revisionist" historians, negative reports concerning Israel and the odd bit of bad news involving individual Jews, e.g., "Rabbi's murder trial: A first in U.S. history?" Evidently relishing the fact that a Jewish family of art dealers is under suspicion of having dealings with the Third Reich, an anonymous commentator on the site exults: "Nazis and art dealers: six of one, half a dozen of the other." It's a shame to see a serious legal decision and the historical research behind it put to such uses but, in these days of massive spin and disinformation, perhaps hardly surprising.
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