DETROIT — A family that claimed a Vincent van Gogh painting at a Detroit museum rightfully belonged to them since it was sold during the Nazi era lost their case because they waited too long to sue.

Martha Nathan, a member of a notable banking family who emigrated from Germany to France in 1937 to escape Nazi persecution, sold the Van Gogh to a consortium of three Jewish art dealers in Paris in 1938 for $9,360. One of the dealers sold the picture for $34,000 in 1941 to Detroit art collector Robert Tannahill.

The Detroit Institute of Arts received the painting, called “Les Becheurs,” as a bequest from Tannahill in 1969.

In 2004, Nathan’s relatives sought to claim the painting. In an order released Saturday, U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood cited the expiration of Michigan’s statute of limitations and dismissed the claims.

A parallel dispute between Nathan’s heirs and the Toledo Museum of Art over a Gauguin painting was similarly dismissed by an Ohio judge in December.

“It’s tremendous relief,” Detroit Institute of Arts Director Graham Beal said. “You always fear the worst, and while we felt we had the strongest possible case, and we wouldn’t have taken our stand if we hadn’t felt so strongly, it’s still a great relief to know that this is finished.”

Detroit Institute of Arts


Operations Manager at Bad at Sports
Christopher Hudgens is the Operations Manager for BaS and works in various other capacities for other organizations in the Chicago Art & Culture scene. Most recently as Business Operations Manager for the Bridge Art Fair and currently an advocate for all things art & technology.

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