Appeals Court Tosses Man's Claim Against Yale Over Van Gogh Painting | Connecticut Public Radio

Appeals Court Tosses Man's Claim Against Yale Over Van Gogh Painting

Oct 27, 2015

"Self-Portrait, 1887" by Vincent van Gogh.
Credit Jeremy Yoder / Creative Commons (cropped from original)

A federal appeals court has sided with Yale University in a dispute over the ownership of a $200 million Vincent van Gogh painting.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a 2014 ruling by a lower court that dismissed the claims of Pierre Konowaloff. He said the Dutch painter's "The Night Cafe" was stolen from his family during the Russian Revolution.

Van Gogh's painting hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery, and Yale has had the artwork since 1961. It sued in 2009 to block Konowaloff from claiming it. The 1888 painting depicts the interior of a nearly empty café dotted with a few customers seated at tables along the walls.

The federal judge who backed Yale last year cited doctrine in which U.S. courts don't examine the validity of foreign governments' expropriation orders. In its decision, the appeals court said the lower court acted appropriately.

Yale said it's pleased by the decision.

According to an Associated Press report, Allan Gerson, Konowaloff's lawyer, said Yale should have inquired about the painting’s origin when it obtained it as a bequest from Yale alumnus Stephen Carlton Clark, who had purchased Van Gogh's painting from a New York City gallery in either 1933 or 1934.

The appeals court judges countered that Konowaloff “accepted the validity” of the Soviets’ role of taking the painting after the revolution, and consequently he "admitted any legal claim or interest he has in the painting was extinguished at that time."

In 2012, the same appeals court heard a similar case. Konowaloff filed a suit against the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, claiming that Paul Cézanne's painting, "Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory," also was purchased by his great-grandfather whose collection was confiscated by the Russian government, and challenged the museum's ownership.

In April 2012, the appeals court reached a similar conclusion as the above lawsuit and dismissed Konowaloff's case.

Leyda Quast is an intern at WNPR. This report includes information from The Associated Press.