Restitution Suit Pits Owner of 18th-Century Painting Against Polish Government

ARTnews 27 June 2018
By Alex Greenberger

Antoine Pesne, Girl with Dove, 1754.

In a lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Alexander Khochinsky, an American art dealer who owns the Antoine Pesne painting Girl with Dove (1754), alleged that Poland retaliated against him after he approached officials there with a claim that the work may have been looted by the Nazis during World War II. Khochinsky alleges that, in response, Poland attempted to extradite him and, according to the suit, “nearly destroyed his livelihood.” Khochinsky, who is an American citizen, is now seeking a court order declaring his ownership of Girl with Dove, repayment of his legal fees, and damages to compensate for the physical, mental, and financial stresses the extradition case caused.

At the center of the suit is Khochinsky’s claim that he is owed payment for land seized in Przemysl, a Polish city where his ancestors lived. The border between Nazi- and Soviet Union-occupied land ran through the middle of the city during World War II, and it was the place where members of Khochinsky’s family owned property and were later murdered. After his parents died, the rights to that property, including Girl with Dove, were allegedly passed on to Khochinsky.

Sometime during or around 2010, the lawsuit claims, Khochinsky became aware that the Wielkopolskie Museum in Poznan, Poland, had once owned a Nazi-looted painting he suspected could be Girl with Dove. The suit notes that he alerted the museum to the painting in his possession, and that a curator came to evaluate it and confirmed it was the missing work.

In 2013, a Polish court accused him of illegally buying Girl with Dove and later claimed, in 2014, that Khochinsky had been “aware of the fact that the painting originated from a prohibited act—looting of property in 1943 by the then authorities of the German Third Reich.” Having already put out a “Wanted Person Notice,” the country subsequently filed for his extradition, and Khochinsky was briefly arrested in 2015. The U.S. District Court cleared him of the extradition charges that year, noting that there was “no direct evidence of Khochinsky’s knowledge before May 18, 2010 that ‘Girl with Dove’ was stolen.”

In a statement, Khochinsky’s lawyer, Nicholas M. O’Donnell, said, “There is little question that Poland’s bad-faith response was part of its ongoing failure to come to terms with the fate of Poland’s Jews in the Holocaust and is emblematic of the anti-Semitism endemic in its government today.”
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