A retired New York lawyer whose great uncle’s art collection was allegedly stolen by the Nazis and found among 1,400 works seized from a reclusive collector in Munich sued Germany seeking return of the paintings.
David Toren, 88, presented German authorities with “irrefutable evidence” that the painting “Two Riders on the Beach” by Max Liebermann and other works were taken by the Nazis from his great uncle, David Friedmann, according to a complaint filed today in federal court in Washington.
“Two Riders” was among more than 1,400 modernist artworks found in a March 2012 raid by Bavarian tax authorities on the home of 81-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt. The raid turned up paintings, sketches and prints long given up as lost or destroyed under Adolf Hitler’s regime. Gurlitt inherited the collection, which Focus magazine estimated to be valued at more than 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion), from his father, Hildebrand, one of four art dealers commissioned by the Nazis to remove art they scorned as “degenerate” from circulation in the 1930s and 1940s.
A German government website of lost artworks identifies “Two Riders” as “Collection of David Friedmann, Breslau” yet the German authorities and the Bavarian government, which also is named in the suit, “have refused Toren’s demand, while offering no tenable basis to doubt the legitimacy of Toren’s claim,” his lawyers wrote.
While other suits may have been filed in Europe over claims to the seized artworks, August Matteis, one of the lawyers, said in a phone interview he believed Toren’s suit is the first such action brought in the U.S.
The German embassy didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The case is Toren v. Federal Republic of Germany, 14-cv-359, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).