Restitution and art law
Following the sensational auction of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's painting "Berliner Straßenszene" (Street scene in Berlin) a debate has broken out in Germany about the restitution of art works looted during the Nazi era. Law firms and auction houses in particular are being accused of having created a new line of business, referred to as 'art law', out of works of art whose ownership remains unclear.
Heinrich Wefing comments:
"The decisive factor is historical research. This means that meticulous research aimed at uncovering works of art that are in the possession of public institutions and which may fall under the rules governing restitution is frequently the starting point for a restitution process, rather than the desire of an heir of Nazi victims to recover lost property. Auction houses and law firms employ researchers, usually historian or art historians, who search archives and storage houses for years looking for works of art that could fall in this category. Only once they find such a work do the lawyers get in contact with the potential claimant to convince them to contract them to institute legal proceedings against the museums in question for the restitution of their property."
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