Settlement Reached in Degas Fight
Aug. 14, 1998
CHICAGO (AP) _ The family of two Holocaust victims and an Art Institute of Chicago benefactor have agreed to jointly transfer a valuable Degas landscape to the museum, ending the family's 50-year effort to get it back.
The heirs of Friedrich and Louise Gutmann will share ownership of ``Landscape with Smokestack,'' a pastel made by Edgar Degas in the early 1890s, with pharmaceutical magnate Daniel C. Searle. The work is now valued at about $1.1 million.
The agreement, reached Wednesday, stipulates that Searle will donate his share of the work to the Art Institute, and the Gutmann heirs will sell their share to the museum. The Chicago Tribune reported that they would receive about $500,000.
The Art Institute plans to exhibit the pastel starting in October with a plaque that says it is a ``purchase from the collection of Friedrich and Louise Gutmann and a gift of Daniel C. Searle.''
``It's an amicable ending to what's been a long and painful process,'' said Nick Goodman, one of the Gutmanns' grandchildren. ``Everybody's happy: Mr. Searle is in his role as benefactor; my grandparents are reattached in a small but nice way to a painting that was once theirs. All of the Goodmans have closure, and the Art Institute is getting a great painting.''
Goodman and his brother, Simon, have led their family's struggle to reclaim the Degas, a quest that began shortly after World War II ended. They will share the proceeds of the sale with their aunt, Lili Vera Collas Gutmann. The brothers' branch of the family changed the spelling of the name.
The family owned the pastel well before World War II and says it was stolen by the Nazis from a Paris warehouse where it had been put for safekeeping. Friedrich and Louise Gutmann died in a concentration camp after Holland was overrun by the Nazis in 1940.
After the war, the Degas eventually made its way to Searle, who bought it from an art dealer in New York for $850,000 in 1987. Searle's advisers detected nothing unusual about the Degas' origins and purchased it in good faith, according to the Art Institute.
Litigation began after Simon Goodman saw an illustration of the work in a book of Degas works at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1995.
Attempts to reach Searle on Wednesday were unsuccessful and messages left with his were not returned.
The settlement was reached shortly after Nick Goodman telephoned Searle on Aug. 7, said Barry Rosen, the Goodmans' attorney.
``I decided to make the first move,'' Goodman said from Los Angeles. ``And it was a friendly conversation. I told Mr. Searle that this was a wonderful opportunity to show the world that settlements can happen. Now, hopefully others will look at this and settle their cases too.''
Major museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Seattle Art Museum are handling similar disputes over art that disappeared during the Holocaust.
James N. Wood, director and president of the Art Institute, said the settlement is ``a wonderful precedent.''
``They could have sold it on the open market,'' he said. ``But instead it comes in the public domain with a credit to the family and Mr. Searle. Everyone comes out ahead.''