California Bill Could Alter the Restitution of Nazi-Looted Art
A bill was approved by California lawmakers on Monday that allows for the extension of the amount of time during which citizens in that state can sue museums, galleries, and auction houses for the recovery of stolen works of art — an important step in creating decisive legislation to deal with the myriad difficult-to-try, emotionally fraught cases concerning the restitution of Nazi-looted art.
According to the New York Times, a spokesman for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that the governor had not decided whether or not he would sign the bill, which extends the allotted time to file a claim from three to six years, from the moment at which the claimant has discovered the location of the lost work. Previously, the claimant, if he or she had taken many years to discover and sue the institution in whose hands the work had ended up, had to prove that in that time he or she had shown "reasonable diligence" in the search for the stolen art, that information concerning its location was not readily available. In the new legislation, the reasonable diligence provision has been removed.
The incensed members of the California Association of Museums, however, believe that the bill is aimed at affecting the outcome of two pending lawsuits — one of which pits a California man against a Madrid museum for the return of a Pissarro painting his grandmother was forced to sell to the Nazis in 1939 — and have described the legislation in a letter to one of the bill’s sponsors as "unnecessary, unfair, unconstitutional, and disruptive" of property rights.