SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Actress Elizabeth Taylor can keep a Van Gogh painting that may have been illegally seized by Nazis, after a U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday the family who once owned it waited too long to ask for it back.
“This affirms my great belief in the American judicial process; I am very grateful,” Taylor said in a statement. “It’s wonderful to have Monsieur Vincent Van Gogh in my living room.”
Taylor, 75, bought the 1889 painting “View of the Asylum and Chapel at Saint-Remy” at a Sotheby’s auction in London in 1963 for 92,000 British pounds — about $257,000 at the time. She keeps it in her Los Angeles-area home.
The painting, made by van Gogh near the end of his life, is worth many times more, perhaps tens of millions, in today’s red-hot art market.
The Orkin family, South African and Canadian descendants of Margarete Mauthner, a Jewish woman who fled Germany in 1939, sued Taylor in 2004, claiming that Nazis forced the sale of the painting under duress and thus it should be returned to them under the 1998 U.S. Holocaust Victims Redress Act.
Taylor said she was the rightful owner of the painting and asserted it had passed through two Jewish art dealers without any sign of Nazi coercion before she bought it.
“We have evidence the painting was sold in the late 1920s,” Jonathan Bloom, a lawyer for Taylor, said after the decision.
In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed a lower court and ruled the Orkin family waited too long in claiming the painting that was long known to be in Taylor’s possession.
“It is apparent that Taylor’s acquisition of the painting was certainly discoverable at least by 1990, when she held it out for sale in an international auction, and most probably as early as 1963, when she acquired the painting in a highly publicized international auction,” Judge Sidney Thomas wrote.
Any claim to the painting, Thomas said, “expired in or before 1993, three years after the last public announcement of Taylor’s ownership.”
The judge also said the painting’s tangled history may reflect van Gogh’s.
“Vincent van Gogh is said to have reflected that ‘paintings have a life of their own that derives from the painter’s soul,’” Thomas wrote. “The confused and perhaps turbulent history of his painting ‘Vue de l’Asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Remy’ may prove the truth of his observation.”
Taylor, a two-time Oscar winner who starred in films such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Cleopatra” and “Giant,” started collecting art in the 1950s with the help of her father, an art dealer, and has owned works by Monet, Renoir, Degas and others.