Deaccessioning and Its Costs in the Holocaust Art Context: The United States and Great Britain

By Range, Daniel | Texas International Law Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Deaccessioning and Its Costs in the Holocaust Art Context: The United States and Great Britain


Range, Daniel, Texas International Law Journal


I. INTRODUCTION

Ethics can be expensive. Consider the case of the Seattle Art Museum, which in 1997 became the first American museum to face a claim of ownership over Holocaust-era art.1 The heirs of the prominent Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg alleged that the two million dollar Henri Matisse painting entitled L'Odalisque, which had been hanging in the museum's gallery since its donation in 1991, had been stolen from Roscnberg by Nazi forces fifty years earlier.2 After months of researching the provenance, the museum eventually confirmed the truth of the allegations and returned the painting to the Rosenberg heirs.3 The Seattle Art Museum's director spoke of the return in moral terms, describing the resolution as "drawing a clear ethical line" and as "doing the right thing."4

That is easy enough, at least from an ethical perspective. Aside from the debate over the proper temporal boundaries that should be drawn regarding title to Nazi-looted art,5 it is well established in common law that the true owner of property is entitled to possession.6However, a museum's return of stolen art implicates considerations beyond simple ethics. Not only did the loss of the Matisse cost the Seattle Art Museum two million dollars in art inventory, but the Museum also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsequent litigation against the original sellers in addition to researching the validity of the heirs' claim.7 Attenuated costs arose as well, such as the cost of replacing the piece and the increased pressure for further provenance research on other pieces in the collection. Not surprisingly then, museums have recently become resistant to subjecting pieces in their collection to Holocaust claim contention.8

The reticence is not surprising. Attempts to provide museums with guidance for resolving Holocaust claims have overlooked what the fundamental nature of the return of art is to the museum: namely, an act of deaccession. "Deaccessioning" is the "permanent removal or disposal of an object from the collection of the museum by virtue of its sale, exchange, donation or transfer by any means to any person."9 Inherently, deaccession is about financial and administrative flexibility. However, it is also a practice besieged by legal constraints.

Directors in the United States and Great Britain wishing to deaccession a work frequently find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Deaccessioning has become an increasingly necessary tool for maintaining solvency in the face of escalating administrative costs and decreasing governmental support. In the United States, fiduciary duties arising out of trust law, however, frequently place legal constraints on a director's ability to deaccession a work.10 Directors of Great Britain's national museums may be statutorily barred from any deaccessioning at all." Furthermore, increased public scrutiny of deaccessions in both countries has resulted in the creation of published guidelines restricting museum practices and policies. No longer are deaccession decisions an internal matter; with the advent of deaccession into the public consciousness,12 museums must now gauge the public reception that will result from the deaccessioning of a piece.

This comment argues that a successful framework for Holocaust claim resolution requires an acknowledgment of the current exigencies museums face when deaccessioning a work of art. While Holocaust claims exist in many countries,13 the United States and Great Britain have been leaders in implementing mechanisms for the resolution of Holocaust disputes. The two nations provide a basis of comparison for approaches to deaccession and Holocaust claim remedies within a common law system. The comment will thus be divided into five main parts. Parts II and III will examine the nature of deaccession as it exists in the United States and Great Britain, respectively. Part IV will demonstrate how the same considerations involved in a traditional deaccession case are present as a museum contemplates the return of Nazi-looted art, and how Holocaust claims have inverted the traditional deaccession framework. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Deaccessioning and Its Costs in the Holocaust Art Context: The United States and Great Britain
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.