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Liz Taylor sues to keep her Van Gogh

May 31, 2004

Liz Taylor in the 1963 version of Cleopatra
Photo - AFP
LOS ANGELES — US screen legend Elizabeth Taylor has sued the family of a victim of Nazi rule in Germany as part of a legal battle to hold on to a precious Van Gogh painting that she claims is rightfully hers.

The violet-eyed movie goddess filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against the South African and Canadian descendants of a Jewish woman who fled the Nazis. The woman's family members say the painting was looted from their relative and they have demanded its return or a share of its sale proceeds, court documents showed Wednesday.

Double Oscar-winner Taylor, 72, says she bought Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh's 1889 work View of the Asylum and Chapel at Saint-Remy for £257,600 at a Sotheby's auction in London in 1963, at the height of her fame.

According to the suit that names South African Mark Orkin and Canadian residents Sarah-Rose Josepha Adler and Andrew Orkin as defendants, Taylor now keeps the work in her Los Angeles mansion.

The trio contacted Taylor's business manager, claiming to be heirs of Margarete Mauthner, a former owner of the painting who fled Germany after Adolf Hitler rose to power before World War II.

They have alleged the painting was looted by the Nazis, who built up a huge stockpile of valuable artworks seized from Jews, a practice that has in recent years sparked waves of litigation over the ownership of art pieces.

But Cleopatra star Taylor claims the family has failed to show that the artwork was ever illegally seized from Mauthner.

"Defendants have provided not a shred of evidence that the painting ever fell into Nazi hands or any specific information concerning how or when Mauthner 'lost possession' of it," the suit states.

Taylor maintains that the catalogue from the 1963 auction at which she bought the piece stated that the painting had once belonged to Mauthner, but that it passed to two reputable galleries before it was sold to a German Jew, Alfred Wolf, who himself fled the Nazis in 1933 for Buenos Aires.

When Taylor bought the painting, it was part of Wolf's collection, she claimed.

The veteran actress, who now devotes her time to the fight against AIDS and HIV, says her ownership of the painting was well-publicised, allowing anyone with an alleged claim to its ownership to come forward years ago.

While she said she was sympathetic to those whose art was looted by Hitler, Taylor stated that the statute of limitations on any claim to her Van Gogh would now have expired.

"The heirs of those who were truly dispossessed of art or other valuable property by the Nazis are, of course, extremely sympathetic claimants," her suit states.

"But when such claimants are unable to document their purported rights – and indeed, the available evidence indicated that they have no such rights – and when, as here, they sit on their alleged rights for decades before attempting to pursue an innocent, good-faith purchaser, the law owes them no special deference." – Sapa-AFP

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