The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal for the return of a Vincent Van Gogh masterpiece “The Night Cafe” from the descendants of a Russian collector who claim that the painting was stolen from them by the State, following the 1917 Revolution.
The Supreme Court decision is the last chance saloon of the case for Frenchman Pierre Konowaloff’s legal action to claim back painting which was created by the troubled artist in Arles France in 1888. A federal appeals court in New York dismissed his claim last year, citing the “act of state doctrine,” which prevents US courts from second-guessing the policies of sovereign governments. Konowaloff, is Morozov’s great-grandson. He has been embroiled in a lengthily legal battle since the early 2000s claiming he is the rightful heir.
The painting is currently valued at up to $200 million and on public view at the Yale University Art Gallery in Hartford Connecticut. The Supreme Court also ruled against Konowaloff in another dispute with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over a painting by Paul Cezanne.
The Post-Impressionist painting was originally owned by Ivan Morozov, a Russian aristocrat who built up a large collection of works by some of the iconic painters of the Impressionist and Post Impressionist periods. The collection was appropriated by the Communist authorities after the Bolshevik Revolution. At the outbreak of WW2, the Soviet government sold the painting to a Berlin gallery.
The work later went to a New York gallery that sold it to American collector Stephen Clark, grandson of a founder of the Singer Sewing Machine. Clark bequeathed the painting to Yale, which has kept it since his death in 1961.