Claim for Kokoschka in Boston is Time-Barred

The lawsuit by Claudia Seger-Thomschitz to recover a painting by Oskar Kokoschka from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has been rejected by both the U. S. District Court for Massachusetts and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on the grounds that her claim comes too late.

Dr. Seger-Thomschitz is the heir of a son of Dr. Oskar Reichel, a Jewish art collector who sold the painting in Vienna after the Anschluss. Reichel had been a friend of the artist and at one time owned eleven works by him. Whether the sale was made under duress, as she argued, was not considered by the courts; if it was, could any subsequent possessor have legal title to it? None of the merits of her claim could be considered. The decisions addressed only the technical defense of the statute of limitations, and that is enough to keep a lawsuit from going forward.

When her representatives wrote to the Museum of Fine Arts in 2007, the staff undertook more thorough provenance research than before. The Museum received the picture as a bequest in 1973, and although the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in 1999 had urged its member organizations to carry out such investigations, the Museum had not looked very carefully into this painting's history. Having done so, the Museum satisfied itself (before any court had the chance to hear the history from both sides) that its ownership was legitimate and took the claimant to court to affirm that the Museum had good title. The statute of limitations argument was raised, despite the AAMD's recommendations against resorting to such technical defenses, and it worked.

Please see this site's page on Museum Ethics.

Oskar Kokoschka, The Lovers (the Artist and Alma Mahler)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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