French Close Case on Art Dealer and Nazis

New York Times 11 October 2003
By Alan Riding

France's Supreme Court has rejected a claim by the Wildenstein family, the New York-based dynasty of international art dealers, against an American writer who described business dealings between the family and prominent Nazis early in Germany's occupation of France. The claim had already been rejected by a lower court and the Court of Appeal, and the case is now closed.

The association between Georges Wildenstein and Karl Haberstock, an influential Nazi art dealer, was mentioned by the writer, Hector Feliciano, in his book ''The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art,'' published in France in 1995 and in the United States in 1997 by Basic Books. Mr. Wildenstein, who went into exile in the United States in 1941, died in 1963.

The case against Mr. Feliciano, which included a demand for $1 million in damages, was brought by Georges Wildenstein's son, Daniel, and his grandsons, Guy and Alec. Daniel Wildenstein died in 2001, after the case was rejected by the Court of Appeal, but his sons took it to France's highest court.

The two lower courts said they could not rule on whether Georges Wildenstein did business with the Nazis, but they ruled that Mr. Feliciano had not acted irresponsibly or negligently in drawing that conclusion from the documents available to him. The Supreme Court, however, ruled on Thursday that the suit should have been rejected in the beginning because it had not been filed within three months of the book's publication.

It also ordered the Wildenstein family to pay Mr. Feliciano the equivalent of $2,800 in damages.

A request for a reaction to the verdict from Guy Wildenstein was not answered. In a telephone interview from his home in New York, Mr. Feliciano said he was relieved ''after four years of wasted energy, time and money.''

He added, ''They have used big law firms, private detectives and big sums of money to discourage me and others from doing research, but it did not work.''
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