23 December 2009
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT -- Court papers, filed on behalf of Yale University, have called into question the fate of billions of dollars of art works.
The Vincent van Gogh painting, The Night Café, is part of an ongoing law suit by Pierre Konowaloff, a descendent of a previous owner of the Van Gogh work. Mr. Konowaloff claims that his great-grandfather, industrialist Ivan Morozov acquired The Night Café in 1908, but that it was later illegally seized by the Soviet government. Mr. Morozov's property was nationalized after the Communists came to power and his art collection confiscated. The Night Café was later sold to an American collector in the 1930s and eventually made its way into the collection of Yale University in 1961.
Mr. Konowaloff maintains that the Russian nationalization and seizure of his great-grandfather's possessions was illegal and, therefore, that The Night Café rightfully belongs to him. Lawyers for Yale University hold that any claims on the painting are unfounded because the statute of limitations has run out. Furthermore the Yale court papers also state that if Mr. Konowaloff's suit is successful, it would set a precedent that would cause chaos in the art world. "Invalidating title to the painting would set U.S. courts at odds with the Russian government and cloud title to what Konowaloff concedes is at least $20 billion of art in global commerce," the Yale court papers maintain.