International art world heavyweights, the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), the Society of London Art Dealers (Slad) and the UK dealer Richard Nagy have banded together to lobby against potential U.S. legislation that could limit the application of the laches doctrine. The laches doctrine is a defense commonly employed in title disputes over art works. “For the past 25 years, good-faith purchasers of art have relied on the laches doctrine to protect themselves from stale or frivolous claims to ownership,” state the court papers filed by the trio. The representative bone of contention in question is the long-standing dispute over the ownership of the above Egon Schiele drawing.
The principal contenders of the legal war that dates back to 2005 are the Grünbaum heirs who claim the Nazis stole the drawing from their family (Fritz Grünbaum died at a concentration camp in 1941) and U.S. collector David Bakalar who bought the drawing from a Manhattan dealer after it had passed through several hands. The laches doctrine forms a major part of Bakalar’s defense (he states he bought the work in good faith) while the Grünbaum heirs dispute the application of the doctrine. The art dealers argue that the heirs’ position opens the way for future claimants or their alleged heirs to challenge ownership of countless good-faith purchases. The dealers feel this could severely impact art business in New York even to the point of making dealers hesitate to lend works to New York museums. See both arguments in the full story in theartnewspaper.com.