“The family of Pierre Knowaloff claims that their grandfather, Ivan Morozov, purchased the painting in 1908, but when the communist regime took over Russia they nationalized every citizen’s personal property and later sold it off.”
The Knowaloff family, however, would settle for damages in the form of $120 to $150 million instead, which is what the Van Gogh painting is estimated to be worth.
However, Yale University was given the painting by alumnus Stephen Carlton Clark who claims he purchased the Van Gogh painting from a New York City art gallery in either 1933 or 1934.
The lawyers for the Konowaloff family argued that the purchase of the Van Gogh painting amounted to “art laundering” since the Soviet government unlawfully seized the artwork. They called upon the United States to deem this act a theft and a violation of international law.
But Yale argued that the communist’s nationalization of personal property did not violate international law. They also pointed out that invalidating previous actions by the Russians could create further tensions between the US and Russia, when Vladimir Putin and President Obama are already in strong disagreement about Ukraine. They also believed that siding with the family’s position would cast doubt over the ownership of artwork all over the world.
Knowaloff’s lawyer, Allan Gershon, denied that Russian authorities were concerned about the case affecting Russian paintings:
“There’s never been another case in which act of state has been invoked where the state — here, Russia — that the court is ostensibly trying to protect from embarrassment has actually cooperated with the court.”
However, Judge Alvin Thompson on Thursday granted Yale’s request to deny the claims to the painting by Pierre Konowaloff, Yale’s lawyer Jonathan Freiman commenting on their win:
“We’re pleased that the court has dismissed Konowaloff’s claims. The Night Cafe is a timeless masterpiece that the public can see free of charge, and in this suit Yale has worked to make sure it stays that way.”