The Regional Court of Hanover (Landgericht Hannover) attests that the Niedersächsische Landesmuseum acquired a Tiepolo painting in good faith despite expert concerns regarding the lawfulness of this acquisition.
NOT EVERYTHING THAT IS LEGAL IS ETHICAL. NO MUSEUM SHOULD HOLD ON TO STOLEN OBJECTS, NOT EVEN IF THEY BOUGHT THOSE AS GOOD FAITH BUYER…
On behalf of the heirs of Ferrari di Valbona and family represented by us, we would like to state the following:
1. The heirs of Ferrari di Valbona claimed the restitution of a painting forming part of the family’s art collection by the Venetian Rococo painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Il miracolo di Sant’ Antonio, oil on canvas, 1754/60) by filing an action against the state Lower Saxony. This painting was acquired in London in 1929 by the Jewish industrialist Ettore Modiano, and was imported to Italy. Since that date, the work forms part of the family art collection in Bologna and was published on several national and international monographies. During World War II, it was declared to be a culture asset of special importance in Italy. After the death of Mr. Modiano in 1956, the ownership of the painting descended to his daughter Paola Modiano Ferrari di Valbona. She took the painting to her apartment in Paris where it was stolen in February of 1979. The theft is proven by according police minutes. After the family’s repeated futile inquiries with the competent police authority regarding the whereabouts of the painting, it again reported the theft to the Carabinieri Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Artistico, the special unit of the Italian police, in November 2001, pointing to the outstanding cultural importance of the painting. The unit’s research proved that the stolen painting was owned by the Niedersächsische Landemuseums Hannover (Lower Saxony State Museum) since 1985.
2. The Niedersächsische Landesmuseum alleges to have acquired the painting in 1985 from a private art dealer in Paris, Madame Grati Baroni de Piqueras. In 1984, the head curator of the museum had been asked about the Tiepolo by an art collector known to him and to be kept secret by him. He had then made an appointment with Madame Grati Baroni de Piqueras in her apartment in Paris. The painting, however, had been stored in a safe in a nearby bank. After inspection of the painting and aware of the fact that it had been an Italian work, the provenance of which had last been “Collection Ettore Modiano, Bologna“, the head curator acting on behalf of the Niedersächsische Landesmuseum had asked the art trader if she had duly exported the painting from Italy, including all permissions necessary in this regard. In reply to this question, she had simply declared, without showing any export documents, the painting had been in France for some time. The question of the head curator if the painting would be from Mr. Modiano in Bologna, had been answered in the negative by her. Neither is the museum able to produce the export papers which would prove that the transport of the painting from France to Germany was duly made, nor was any proof furnished during the proceeding that the export turnover tax undisputedly required had been paid.
3. In the context of the proceeding, the renowned art historian and former director of the Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Prof. Dr. Jan Kelch, prepared an expert opinion upon the court’s instruction regarding the question if the museum had not complied with its duty to exercise due care in accordance with the international practice of museums when acquiring the painting. The expert had made it absolutely clear that upon acquisition of the painting in dispute “the duties to exercise due care and to collect sufficient information required to be complied with by museums, had not been sufficiently adhered to in two aspects“. This would, on the one hand, regard the “readiness to assume a risk when negotiating with the art dealer“, and on the other, the export formalities had “not at all been understood as a problem“.
4. Irrespective thereof, the Regional Court of Hanover had dismissed the action of the heirs of Ferrari di Valbona with its judgment of January 11, 2007. The court held that the museum had acted in good faith when acquiring the ownership in the painting. Despite the expert’s view that the museum breached its duties to exercise due care and to collect sufficient information, the Regional Court of Hanover considers these fact (a readiness to assume a risk regarding the person of the seller and, first and foremost, the undisputed non-compliance with export formalities) not to be of decisive importance. With this, the Regional Court provides the Landesmuseum with the right to excuse an obviously illegal transport of the painting from France to Germany.
Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover
Tel: (0511) 9807 – 686
Fax: (0511) 9807 – 684
The heirs of Ferrari di Valbona are currently considering to file appeal against the judgment.
Cesare Ferrari di Valbona
Tel 0039 02 23164798
Fax 0039 02 23161949
Mobile 0039 334 6245151
+31 6 242 246 20