Sunday, March 29, 2009

Yale Files Suit To Legalize Vladimir Lenin's 1918 Expropriation of Van Gogh

Today's visit to the Yale University Art Gallery's website reveals that the known provenance of Vincent Van Gogh's The Night Cafe is as follows (in italics):

Le café de nuit (The Night Café)
1888 Artist: Vincent van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 - 1890
Bequest of Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903
This object is on view at the gallery.
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery's complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.

But an astonishing new lawsuit filed by Yale University in Connecticut alleges that Yale has known for many years that this Van Gogh once belonged to Ivan Morozov, a Russian aristocrat. NY Times article here. According to the Complaint, Vladimir Lenin signed a decree in 1918 nationalizing Ivan Morozov's art collection.

Yale is suing Morozov's grandson, who lives in France, for a declaratory judgment that Lenin's 1918 decree confiscating Morozov's collection was legal. The Complaint contains an endless list of publications in which Yale purportedly published its ownership of the Van Gogh, and, as best this reader could tell, always giving Stephen Carlton Clark as the first known provenance.

But the Complaint claims that the Van Gogh passed through the Matthiesen Gallery in Berlin and then through the Knoedler Gallery in New York. Why are the names of these galleries not displayed on Yale's website with the corresponding acquisition dates?

When did Yale learn that this work had been expropriated by Vladimir Lenin? And why does Yale's website continue to contain a misleading provenance that is directly contradicted by a complaint filed in Connecticut federal district court?

The Complaint says that Yale filed this lawsuit in response to a letter from an attorney for Pierre Konowaloff which attached a copy of a complaint to be filed in Connecticut District Court, thus creating the "case or controversy" under 28 U.S.C. Section 2201.

Practitioner's note: Annexed to the Complaint (available on PACER) is an "Order to Appear or Plead Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1655" that requires the defendant to appear or plead by May 22, 2009. The Complaint is dated March 23 and the order is dated March 25 and recites that the defendant has not yet appeared in the action. This painting has been sitting safely at Yale for 50 years. Unless Yale desperately needs to sell it in the near future, I can't imagine why or how it got an order fast-tracking the case before the defendant had even been served.

Just wait until Rush Limbaugh gets hold of this.

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