Appeals court revives case for art seized in WWII

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A federal appeals court revived on Friday a New York woman's lawsuit against a Southern California museum to return two 16th century paintings seized by Nazis during World War II.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-to-1 to reverse a lower court's decision in 2012 to dismiss Marei Von Saher's claims that the paintings belonged to her late father-in-law, a Dutch Jewish art dealer who was forced to give them up during the Holocaust.

U.S. District Judge John Walter had initially ruled that Von Saher's claims against the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena were untimely and the remedies she sought in her lawsuit against the institution conflicted with United States foreign policy on the restitution of Nazi-looted art.

The three-judge panel ruled that Von Saher's claims did not conflict with the policy, called "external restitution," that allows various countries to determine for themselves who rightfully owned art that was recovered from Nazi possession during and after the war. The ruling said that because the Netherlands ended up selling the paintings to a buyer, who later sold them to museum founder Norton Simon in 1971, "the dispute was one between private parties."

The paintings date from approximately 1530 and were appraised at $24 million in 2006. Both paintings are life-size panels painted by the German Renaissance artist, Lucas Cranach the Elder. They feature Adam and Eve, and they might have been the inspiration for the title sequence of the TV series "Desperate Housewives."

The paintings were initially found by a group of Allied Forces experts known as the Monuments Men, who sought to retrieve artistic masterpieces from Nazi possession near the end of World War II.

"Now that they've realized that it doesn't interfere with U.S. foreign policy, she can get her property back that was stolen from her," Von Saher's attorney Lawrence Kaye said.

The Norton Simon Art Foundation said in a statement that it "remains confident that it holds complete and proper title to Adam and Eve."