In re Estate of Oscar Stettiner, Deceased International Art Center, Petitioner-Appellant,
The Estate of Oscar Stettiner, et al., Respondents-Respondents.
appeals from the order of the Surrogate's Court, New York
County (Nora S. Anderson, S.), entered August 10, 2015, which
dismissed the petition to revoke ancillary letters of
administration issued to respondent George W. Gowen.
Richard Golub, Esquire, P.C., New York (Nehemiah S. Glanc of
counsel), for appellant.
McCarthy Fingar LLP, White Plains (Phillip C. Landrigan of
counsel), for respondents.
Tom, J.P. Rolando T. Acosta, Richard T. Andrias, Karla
Moskowitz, Marcy L. Kahn, JJ.
genesis of this litigation was in 1939, when, with the Nazi
invasion imminent, decedent Oscar Stettiner, a Jewish art
collector, abruptly fled Paris, leaving his art collection
behind. His art collection was later sold by the Nazis,
including an early twentieth century painting by the Italian
artist Amedeo Modigliani, which Stettiner's heir seeks to
recover. The issue before this Court is whether petitioner
International Art Center, S.A. (IAC), which purchased the
painting in 1996 for $3.2 million, has standing to challenge
the ancillary letters of administration issued to the
heir's representative for purposes of commencing
litigation to recover the painting. We hold that petitioner
lacks standing, and that, in any event, the limited ancillary
letters were properly issued.
immediate aftermath of World War II, the United States and
its allies took on the task of locating and returning the
many great works of art systematically looted by the Nazis.
While millions of works were recovered and returned to the
rightful owners, individual Holocaust victims and their heirs
have struggled for decades to obtain restitution.
efforts to recover these treasures have been recently
popularized in movies including 2014's "Monuments
Men, " and 2015's "Woman in Gold, " which
chronicled Maria Altmann's pursuit of her family's
paintings looted in Austria, including Gustav Klimt's
"Portrait of Adele" (1907), of which Altmann won
restitution following litigation that reached the United
States Supreme Court (see Republic of Austria v
Altmann, 541 U.S. 677');">541 U.S. 677 ).
this great theft may have taken place more than 70 years ago,
a resolution was not possible until a combination of
scholarship and technology allowed for the creation of
databases compiling lists of missing works, and until nations
agreed to international guidelines on art restitution such as
those laid out in the 1998 Washington Principles on
Nazi-Confiscated Art. Even at the tail end of 2016, the
United States Congress felt it necessary to pass additional
legislation to aid victims of Holocaust-era persecution and
their heirs to recover works of art confiscated or
misappropriated by the Nazis, and to ensure that claims to
artwork and other property stolen or misappropriated by the
Nazis are not unfairly barred by statutes of limitations but
are resolved in a just and fair manner. This legislation
became law on December 16, 2016 (see Holocaust
Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 (Pub L 114-308, 130
U.S. Stat 1524, amending 22 USC § 1621 et
painting at issue is known as "Seated Man With a
Cane" (1918) and is currently owned by petitioner. It is
alleged to have been confiscated by the Nazis from decedent,
who resided in Paris in the 1930s.
the Estate of Oscar Stettiner (Estate), Philippe Maestracci,
and George W. Gowen, as Limited Ancilliary Administrator of
the Estate of Oscar Stettiner, contend that in 1930 decedent
Oscar Stettiner purchased a painting, which he subsequently
loaned to the 1930 Venice Biennale, a world-famous art
exhibition. The painting was listed as number 35 in the
exhibition, and, according to respondents, a label on the
back of the painting by the Venice Biennale establishes it is
the same painting as the one at issue in this case.
1939, before the Nazi invasion, decedent fled Paris to his
home in what became the unoccupied zone of France. In 1941,
the Nazis appointed a temporary administrator to sell Jewish
property and turn the proceeds over to the Third Reich. On
July 3, 1944, the subject painting was sold by the temporary
administrator to J. Van der Klip.
1946, decedent sought the return of his painting in a French
court and received an emergency summons voiding the forced
sale and directing Van der Klip to return the painting to
him. Van der Klip claimed that he did not know the
whereabouts of the painting, having sold it to an unknown
American officer in a café. Respondents contend that
the painting was secreted by the Van der Klip family for 52
died intestate in France on February 25, 1948. Respondent
Philippe Maestracci, a French domiciliary, is ...