Norton Simon Museum Wins Ownership Dispute Involving ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’

Following nearly a decade of litigation, Munger, Tolles & Olson won summary judgment for the Norton Simon Museum in a lawsuit involving the ownership of ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve,’ two works of art painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in the 16th Century and eventually purchased by art collector Norton Simon in 1971.

Munger Tolles obtained the dismissal of claims brought by the daughter-in-law of art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, a previous owner of the paintings who purchased them from an auction selling art looted by the Bolsheviks in 1931. The paintings were later subject to Nazi-coerced sales during World War II, recovered by the Allies and then made available by the post-war Dutch government to representatives of the Goudstikker art dealership to reclaim them as part of a restitution process. The court ruled that because the Goudstikker art dealership declined to take advantage of the restitution framework set up by the Dutch government, the dealership lost its rights to the works by operation of law and title passed to the government and its successors, including the Norton Simon.

In his Aug. 9, 2016 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter confirmed that the museum “is the sole owner of the title to the personal property described as the oil on panel paintings ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ by Lucas Cranach the Elder.”

The plaintiff received nothing on her claims for restitution of the works and nearly $450 million in damages.

Munger Tolles represented the Norton Simon Museum throughout the long-running and highly-publicized case, which earlier successfully challenged a California statute that had revived otherwise time-barred claims for Holocaust Art and made two trips to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before heading to trial.

The case is described in detail in this Los Angeles Times article.

The Munger Tolles attorneys representing the Norton Simon Museum include Ronald L. Olson, Luis Li, Fred A. Rowley, Jr., E. Martin Estrada, Eric P. Tuttle, Kuruvilla J. Olasa, Justin P. Raphael and David T. Ryan.