Hungary sued in $100m restitution claim

The Art Newspaper 28 July 2010
By Gareth Harris

Heirs of collector Herzog seek return of works by artists such as El Greco and Velázquez

The heirs of Hungarian art collector Mór Lipót Herzog filed a lawsuit this week in Washington against the state of Hungary which, say the heirs, seized over 40 works of art worth more than $100m from the family collection at the end of the second world war.

The Herzog family aims to recover major pieces such as El Greco’s The Agony in the Garden (1605-10), Francisco de Zurbarán’s 17th-century portrait of Saint Andrew and The Annunciation to Joachim by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1518). Other artists represented in the collection include Courbet, Corot and Velázquez.


A selection of the disputed works are housed in Hungarian state museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery, and the Museum of Applied Arts, all based in Budapest, as well as the Budapest Technological University. These institutions, and the Hungarian embassy in London, could not be reached for comment.

“The heirs are also demanding a full and transparent inventory of looted art from the Herzog Collection held by Hungary, marking the first time a request of this nature has ever been made in an art restitution lawsuit,” Michael Shuster, lead attorney, told The Art Newspaper. The collection was reportedly seized by the Hungarian government from 1944-45, assisted by the Nazi regime.

“Lead by a new generation of family members, the heirs are determined to hold Hungary accountable for its brutal actions during the Hungarian Holocaust and atrocious behaviour since with its refusal to return the art to its rightful owners (despite diplomatic pleas from U.S. officials, including then-Senator Hillary Clinton),” added a press statement.

Baron Herzog, a high-profile Jewish collector and banker in pre-war Hungary, died in 1934. His collection was later divided amongst his three children, Erzsébet, István and András. The latter died in a labour camp; his daughters, Angela Maria Herzog and Julia Alice Herzog, are among the three lead lawsuit plaintiffs along with Baron Herzog’s great grandson David de Csepel.

A 1545 portrait by Georg Pencz from the Herzog Collection, which was returned by the German government earlier this year, was sold at Christie’s in London this month for $8.5m. The sale is helping to fund the litigation.
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