(New York, November 3, 2016)
On October 28 the National Gallery, London, issued a press statement regarding the Moll heirs’ suit filed in New York to recover the Matisse portrait of Greta Moll. The Moll heirs welcome a public discussion of this matter, but such a discussion should include the full facts and not selective facts as asserted by the National Gallery.
The National Gallery states in its press release that the Moll family had not previously asserted that the Moll Matisse was stolen. However, in 1954 Grete Moll gave a published talk about the painting stating: “We were able to keep it until the end of the second world war – but as things go – we lost it afterwards.”
This statement has been long known to the National Gallery and in fact was found to be in the National Gallery’s own records regarding the Moll Matisse painting.
The National Gallery also asserts that Melita Williams was photographed in front of the painting in 1992, which is correct. However the National Gallery fails to note that the photograph in question was published together with an article about the painting in BP Magazine in 1992 which also stated that: “During the war years, the Greta portrait was stolen.”
The National Gallery asserts that Oskar and Grete Moll were not persecuted by the Nazis, saying only that they were “criticized” by the Nazis for their “degenerate” modern art. However the Nazis did far more to the Molls than merely criticizing them, they stripped Professor Moll of his position as Director of the Duesseldorf Academy of Art, they defamed the Molls by putting their art in “degenerate” art exhibitions, and they prohibited them from creating “degenerate” modern art and putting it on public display.
The National Gallery asserts the Moll heirs have known that the Moll painting was at the National Gallery for decades, but fails to note that it has asserted to the Moll heirs that British law (the Museums Act of 1963 and the Museums and Galleries Act 1992) prohibits their return of the Moll painting, even if they agreed that it was stolen.
The National Gallery asserts that the US courts are the wrong place to hear this matter, even though they have consistently opposed that any British forum hear this matter on its merits and have asserted to the Moll heirs that British law (the Museums Acts) and British statutes of limitation bar any recovery in British courts.
In fact during the course of this matter the National Gallery has pursued a strategy of asserting technical defenses to avoid an adjudication of this matter on the merits, even though the Moll heirs have offered to have this matter be decided in arbitration on its merits.
The loss of the Greta Moll portrait by its owner, Greta Moll, was a painful event in her life, however, in the aftermath of WWII, like many others effected by the war, it was secondary to getting back on her feet and establishing a normal life. The fact that she was not able to find and recover the painting at that time is understandable.
What is not understandable in this matter is the behavior of the National Gallery. Following WWII the United States Department of State and the Roberts Commission issued warnings to Museums, Art Dealers, Universities, Auction Houses and Book Sellers, not to acquire artworks which had been stolen or looted during or after WWII. Such warnings were known to the British government and its museums, as the Roberts Commission worked together with its British counterpart the McMillan Commission and all Allied governments subscribed to the State Department warnings. Additionally, the importation of such a stolen work into the United States was and still is a violation of the US National Stolen Property Act.
The acquisition of and refusal to return such artworks stolen or looted either during or in aftermath of WWII is thus a violation of international law, as determined by the allied governments, including Great Britain. In addition, the acquisition of stolen artworks is a violation of international museums ethics rules.
The National Gallery’s acquisition of and refusal to return the stolen Matisse portrait of Greta Moll is thus a violation of international law and international museum ethics rules.
The Moll heirs now again call on the National Gallery to either return the Moll painting or to agree to adjudicate this matter on its merits by waiving its technical defenses, including its assertion of Sovereign Immunity, Statutes of Limitation and Laches, thereby permitting a court of law to decide this case on its merits.
For further information, contact:
David Rowland, Esq.
Rowland & Associates
2 Park Avenue, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Tel. (212) 685 5509
Fax (212) 685-8862