October 20, 2015 / 7:48 PM / 2 years ago

New York court rejects appeal, lets Yale keep van Gogh painting

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court upheld a lower ruling on Tuesday, allowing Yale University to keep a painting by famed Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh and denying a request by the great-grandson of a Russian art collector to argue his ownership of the painting.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the arguments made by Pierre Konowaloff, the great-grandson of art collector Ivan Abramovich Morozov, lacked merit.

The 1888 oil painting, titled "The Night Café," once belonged to Morozov, one of three major art collectors whose collections were expropriated in 1918 by the Russian Bolshevik revolutionary government.

The U.S. District Court for Connecticut originally ruled that the act of state doctrine precludes U.S. courts from inquiring into the validity of decisions by recognized foreign sovereign governments within their own territory.

The same doctrine was applied in an unsuccessful 2012 lawsuit by Konowaloff against New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art over ownership of Paul Cézanne's "Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory."

That painting, also bequeathed by the person who gave "The Night Café" to Yale, remains on display in the museum.

Konowaloff appealed the decision over van Gogh's painting and said he has abandoned his argument that the confiscation of cultural property in 1918 was illegal.

In that case, his right to claim ownership of the painting would have ended in 1918, the appeals court said.

"Konowaloff has accepted the validity of the 1918 expropriation and thus admitted any legal claim or interest he has in the Painting was extinguished at that time," the court order stated.

The court rejected Konowaloff's other arguments.

Allan Gerson, Konowaloff's attorney, said Tuesday's ruling denied his client the opportunity to be heard and to show documents obtained from the Russian government supporting his claim that the man who gave the painting to Yale was a thief.

"I have never seen such short shrift given to a serious argument," Gerson said. "The history books will show that this was really a terrible decision."

An attorney for Yale said the university, which has had possession of "The Night Café" since 1961, was pleased with the decision and proud to keep the painting on display for the public.

Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Eric Walsh

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