Yale: Hands Off the Van Gogh

Yale Files Action to Keep Master Work

By Brad Drazen, LeAnne Gendreau and JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
|  Thursday, Mar 26, 2009  |  Updated 9:02 AM EDT
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Yale: Hands Off the Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh's "The Night Café" shows a place where one "can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime."

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Yale is embroiled in a fight with the son of an aristocrat over a famous van Gogh painting and the school says the famous painting should not be going anywhere.

The painting is “The Night Café.”  In 1888, Van Gogh painted the scene depicting a place where one “can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime,” he wrote to his brother. It hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery.

This week, Yale filed a suit this week against Pierre Konowaloff, the purported great-grandson of industrialist and aristocrat Ivan Morozov, who owned the painting in 1918.

Here’s the Russian Revolution part:

In December 1918, Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Soviet government at the time, nationalized most private property, including Morozov’s art collection. His seized collection included “The Night Café,” the Yale Daily News Reports.

The painting changed hands a few times and in 1961, Yale received it through a bequest from Stephen Carlton Clark, a Yale alumnus who founded the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Now, the school says, it wants to remove any cloud over its ownership.

Konowaloff has publicly said he wants title of the painting transferred to the Russian state and wants to receive personal financial compensation, according to the lawsuit.

He claims the Soviet nationalization of property was illegal, so that title never passed from his great-grandfather, according to Yale's lawsuit. The Russian nationalization of property, while sharply at odds with American values, did not violate international laws, the lawsuit says.

"Yale had no reason to question the legitimacy of Mr. Clark's generous bequest in 1961. Nor does it today," Yale's attorney wrote.

The gift was widely reported at the time and Konowaloff's parents did not make any claims for the painting, according to the lawsuit. Morozov's widow also did not make a claim.

Konowaloff is barred from recovering the painting or its value because he failed to take action within three years of what he claimed was Yale's wrongful possession, the lawsuit contends.

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