Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yale Fights for the "Night Cafe"


Yale University filed a lawsuit in a Connecticut federal court yesterday to assert its ownership of van Gogh's "Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine," the Associated Press has reported. Yale's move is intended to counteract possible legal action by Pierre Konowaloff, the great-grandson of Ivon Morozov, who owned the painting in 1918. As the AP report explains, Morozov's estate, including the "Night Cafe," was nationalized during the Communist Revolution. Konowaloff claims that the Soviet government did not have legal title to the painting and therefore had no right to sell it. In contrast, Yale's lawsuit claims that no international laws were violated when Russia nationalized Morozov's and other art collections, and that Konowaloff has no ownership rights.

Art collector and Yale alumnus Stephen Carlton Clark acquired the "Night Cafe" from a New York gallery in 1933 or 1934, then included the painting in a bequest to Yale in 1961. Recently an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum celebrated the Clark brothers' art collection; the "Night Cafe" was a highlight of the show. The Yale lawsuit points out that neither Morozov's widow nor Konowaloff's parents made any claim on the painting at the time it was acquired by Yale University and the bequest highly publicized. The university argues that Konowaloff can recover neither the painting nor its equivalent value since he failed to take action during the three-year period following Yale's acquisition.

A fascinating case to watch!

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