The Museum of Fine Arts has won a lawsuit it filed to establish its legal title to a valuable 1913 painting by Oskar Kokoschka. The judgment in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts seemingly settles a dispute that began in 2007, when attorneys for Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, an Austrian woman, demanded the return of the work from the museum.
Her lawyers contended that Jewish art collector Oskar Reichel, one of her ancestors, had sold the painting under duress in Nazi-occupied 1939 Vienna.
But U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel, in a decision filed this week, stated that the three-year statute of limitations period on such claims has passed. In addition, she wrote that it’s not clear whether the transfer of the painting to Kallir was illegitimate, as Seger Thomschitz alleged, and that the witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the transaction are now dead.
"Two Nudes (Lovers)" has hung at the MFA almost continuously since 1973. It is a self-portrait with Alma Mahler (wife of the composer Gustav Mahler), with whom the artist had an affair. In recent years, other Kokoschka works have sold at auction for as much as $1 million.
The MFA released a statement about the judgement about the painting, which was given to the museum in 1973 by Sarah Reed Blodgett.
Museum Director Malcolm Rogers has this to say:
"We are pleased with the court’s ruling acknowledging the MFA’s clear title to the painting," he said. "The MFA conducted a year and a half long comprehensive investigation of the work’s provenance, seeking documentation of the various transactions and changes of ownership in the painting’s almost 100-year history. We are satisfied and grateful that the judge has reaffirmed the Museum’s rightful ownership of the work."
Two Nudes (Lovers)
Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, 1886–1980)
Oil on canvas
*Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of Sarah Reed Platt
*Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston