The most expensive painting ever auctioned ($120mm!!) is now the subject of claims from the heirs of Hugo Simon, a German-Jewish banker who was forced to sell the masterpiece after the Nazis came to power in 1933 and Mr. Simon was declared an enemy of the German state.

“The Scream” immediately prior to its sale at Sotheby’s for 119.9 mm in May, 2012

The tough issue for this case is that the painting was actually sold by Mr. Simon. Does that make it “Nazi loot?” Mr. Simon  may have sold under duress but the sale occurred as a result of Mr. Simon’s actions. Should government harassment be sufficient to cause provenance/title to revert to Mr. Simon’s heirs?

Should there be a distinction between a forced sale  because of government harassment, and an outright government sponsored seizure?  Does government harassment to the point where a victim must liquidate his art collection, constitute the government theft of fine art?

Further complicating the matter for the heirs is the fact that the family waited 70-80 years to take action. That puts statute of limitations issues in play. With other Holocaust Recovery Art  cases  the fine art disappeared for decades with deliberate action having been taken to keep the whereabouts of the work secret.

This painting has hardly disappeared since World War II.

Stay tuned.

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