Egon Schiele Ruling Could Open Floodgates To Spurious Art Claimants

Art dealers are up in arms about looming US legislation that they believe would have a ‘significant and negative impact on the art market in New York’. The potential legislation relates to the legal battle over the ownership of Egon Schiele’s Seated Woman With a Bent Left Leg (1917). In 2010, the US court of appeals who ruled in favour of a family attempting to reclaim the artwork from a US collector, on the basis that it was originally stolen from them by the Nazis. The art dealer denies the validity of the their claim on the basis that he had no knowledge of this past – even citing an alternative provenance – and that he bought the artwork in 1963 in ‘good faith’.

The ruling throws into question the so-called ‘laches doctrine’ upon which the collector’s defence rests. In the words of now-outraged dealers launching the appeal; ‘For the past 25 years, good-faith purchasers of art have relied on the laches doctrine to protect themselves from stale or frivolous claims to ownership.’ They believe that the court ruling threatens ‘to eliminate the laches doctrine’s protections and make the time for claimants or their heirs to file a [recovery] action virtually limitless’ i.e. opens the floodgates for each new generation of self-proclaiming heirs to claim ownership. 


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