SCOTUS Rejects Van Gogh Repatriation

WASHINGTON, D.C.- A Vincent Van Gogh masterpiece can remain in the United States after the Supreme Court of the United States rejected an appeal from the descendant of a Russian collector whose property was nationalized after the 1917 Revolution.

The decision ends Frenchman Pierre Konowaloff's last legal recourse to claim "The Night Cafe," which the Dutch artist painted in the southern French city of Arles in September 1888.

Estimated to be worth $200 million, the canvas is on display at the Yale University Art Gallery in Connecticut.

The Impressionist painting was formerly owned by Ivan Morozov, a Russian textile manufacturer and Tsarist aristocrat who built an extensive collection of works by some of the greatest painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

From 1907 to 1914, Morozov, along with renowned fellow Russian collector, Sergei Shchukin, amassed one of the world's major collections of avant-garde French art.

Ivan Morozov’s passion for art began at the same time as Shchukin’s.

Initially he collected the works of the young Russian painters, but in 1907 began purchasing French art for his newly rebuilt villa. Morozov entered into fruitful competition with Shchukin. But whereas Shchukin was somewhat adventurous, Morozov collected more prudently. He focused on fewer, more select works of the highest quality.

Beginning in 1907 Shchukin opened his home to the public on Sundays and personally conducted tours of his collection for curious visitors. Morozov did the same.

Seized in Revolution

Although Morozov had planned to give his collection to the city of Moscow, after the October Revolution of 1917 both collections were confiscated by the state.

Their owners fled abroad with their families. In the 1930s, the pictures from both collections were divided between the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage in Leningrad. However, many works soon vanished into storage. Stalin’s cultural policy did not approve of them.

In 1933, the Soviet government sold The Night Café 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 Company.

Clark bequeathed the painting to Yale, his alma mater, which has kept it since his death in 1961.

Konowaloff, who is Morozov's great-grandson, has waged a legal battle since the early 2000s claiming he is the rightful heir.

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.

The same court earlier ruled against Konowaloff in a dispute with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over a painting by Paul Cezanne.

In the oil on canvas "The Night Cafe," Van Gogh used his typical rough brushstrokes and bold colors to depict an interior with a pool table and scattering of mostly huddled customers.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video visits the Yale University Art Gallery for a detailed look at Van Gogh's painting, Night Café.