SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Sotheby's fraudulently sold a collector a painting from the collection of Hermann Goering - and Nazi-looted art is worthless for resale, the buyer claims in court.
Steven Brooks sued Sotheby's in Superior Court.
Brooks claims that in 2004 Sotheby's sold him the "Allegorical Portrait of a Lady as Diana Wounded by Cupid," by 18th century French artist Louis-Michel van Loo.
But because the art work may be assumed to have been acquired illegally by Goering, the founder of the Gestapo, neither Sotheby's nor Christie's will touch the work, and Sotheby's refuses to refund his money, Brooks says in the complaint.
Brooks says he asked Christie's to sell the work for him in 2010. Only then, he says, did he learn about its Nazi past - information Sotheby's had either failed to acquire or failed to share with him.
He claims Christie's declined the consignment when its own research led to question how Goering got the work.
"At the time the Painting was purchased by Brooks, Sotheby's knew, or reasonably should have known, the following facts: (1) the Painting was at one time owned by Hermann Goering, founder of the Nazi Gestapo, commander-in-chief of the German Luftwaffe air force, Senior General and designated successor to Adolph Hitler; (2) Goering acquired the painting on August 23, 1939, through an intermediary art dealer; (3) in light of the circulation of confiscated and forcibly sold art work from Jewish collections that occurred after 1933 the conclusion that this is such a work cannot be ruled out as a possibility by reputable art dealers;( a) this question-mark over the provenance of the Painting is such that there is a cloud on the title such that no art auction house will accept the Painting for sale; and (5) full disclosure of the questionable provenance of the Painting would render the Painting valueless.
"None of the facts set forth in paragraph 5 were disclosed by Sotheby's to Brooks," the complaint states.
Brooks claims that after Christie's turned him down, he returned to Sotheby's, which took a year to conduct its own research and "concluded that they too were unable to clarify the painting's provenance sufficiently to offer it for sale. In declining to accept the painting for sale, Sotheby's wrote: '... we would want to establish that he [Goering] did not acquire it through the persecution of the prior owner ...' At this point, Brooks requested that Sotheby's refund the purchase price he had paid for the painting, as the undisclosed provenance problems clearly rendered it unsaleable. Sotheby's declined Brooks' request for a refund."
Brooks seeks $96,768 in compensatory damages, and punitive damages for unjust enrichment, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, unfair competition and consumer law violations.
He is represented by Thomas Losavio, with Low, Ball & Lynch.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.