The great-grandson of Russian industrialist and art collector Ivan Morozov has exhausted a legal bid to have a $200m (£131m) painting by Vincent van Gogh restituted to ‘its rightful place’ with his family.
Last year we reported that Pierre Konowaloff had failed to bring a successful ownership claim in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals in New York against Yale University Art Gallery where Van Gogh’s ‘The Night Café’ (1888) currently resides.
Konowaloff had argued that the painting was expropriated by the Russian Bolshevik revolutionary government in 1918. Among other priceless artworks stolen from his great-grandfather was Cézanne’s portrait of ‘Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory’ (1891), which is currently held by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Citing the ‘act of state’ doctrine, according to which the US will not examine the validity of property seizures made by foreign governments in their own territory, the federal appeals court refused to hear Konowaloff’s case in October 2015. Determined to fight on, he tweaked his submission and appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Konowaloff argued that while the seizure of the painting may have been legal, its subsequent purchase by Berlin’s Matthiesen Gallery was not as there was no record of sale. The painting eventually arrived in the US where it was purchased from the Knoedler Gallery and bequeathed to Yale University in 1961.
Despite Konowaloff’s new legal strategy the Supreme Court also refused to hear his appeal. It was held that following the nationalisation of Morozov’s property in 1918 the painting no longer belonged to his family. Konawaloff’s lawyer Allan Gerson expressed his frustration at the ruling:
“What shocked me is that there did not appear to be any consideration of my argument,” he said.
Konowaloff has been left with no more legal options to pursue his claim and ‘The Night Café’ is to remain at Yale University.