NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) - Yale University has accused the great-grandson of a Russian aristocrat of falsely trying to claim ownership to Vincent van Gogh's renowned "The Night Café" painting bequeathed to the university by a famous art collector alumnus.
Yale says it received the painting in 1961 from Stephen Carlton Clark, who had served as a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The university has displayed "The Night Café" in its art gallery for almost 50 years, according to the federal lawsuit.
Last year, French citizen Pierre Konowaloff came forward to claim that he is the painting's rightful owner. He says the painting belonged to his great-grandfather, Ivan Morozov, a Russian industrialist and aristocrat whose property was nationalized in the wake of Russia's communist revolution.
The Soviet government later sold the painting to a European gallery, which sold it to Clark, the lawsuit claims. At his death, Clark bequeathed the painting to Yale.
According to Yale, Konowaloff argues that the title never passed from his great-grandfather, because the Soviet nationalization of property was illegal.
"The implication of his argument," Yale claims, "is that American courts should try to undo the entire program of property reform undertaken by the Russian government in the early part of the twentieth century, invalidating the transfers of title of Russian citizens' property that Russia effectuated within its own borders."
Yale seeks a court declaration that Konowaloff has no rightful claim to the van Gogh painting.
It is represented by Jonathan Freiman with Wiggin and Dana.
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