Art restitution

Increasingly, governments, public institutions, businesses, minority groups and individuals are seeking to recover their stolen or lost art and cultural heritage through legal proceedings or alternative dispute resolution.

This applies to Holocaust survivors and their heirs who lost property involuntarily due to circumstances directly related to the Nazi regime, as well as indigenous communities and other victims of colonial and imperial plunder. The slow restitution process is due in part to the inaccessibility of information sources, statutes of limitations, a lack of international law, and fear of setting precedent.

Predatory arts

Restitution cases are complicated because of a number of factors. For example, it is not always clear what constitutes looted art. With regard to Nazi looted art, opinions differ on whether so-called Fluchtgut should be eligible for restitution. The events took place long ago during an armed conflict. Such circumstances often make it impossible to gather evidence to support a restitution claim.

The restitution of art and cultural heritage was (in the past) almost exclusively a matter for state actors. It is a relatively recent development that non-state actors and individuals are taking the initiative to make a claim for the restitution of art and cultural heritage. This comes with new legal implications. This can create ambiguity about which procedures are available and which laws apply.


The increasing influence of international and regional law adds additional complexity. Different legal outcomes in similar cases have led to a significant degree of legal uncertainty. Cases become even more complicated in the case of competing claims to the same artwork. Finally, restitution cases require special attention to emotional, cultural, ethical, political, historical, moral and religious considerations.

This multitude of factors calls for expert advice on art restitution. GMW lawyers’ expertise includes:

  • Nazi looting art
  • UNESCO cultural heritage
  • DDR looted art
  • Colonial looting
  • Human remains
  • Looted art from conflict zones

GMW lawyers advise and represent both public and private parties who have been victims, directly or indirectly, of involuntary loss of property or are facing a claim.

Our firm offers professional investigative services related to authenticity and provenance.

We are happy to help

Do you have a legal question or want advice? If so, please feel free to contact us.

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Antoine de Werd

Antoine de Werd

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Wladimir Schmidt

Wladimir Schmidt

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GMW lawyers will be happy to help you with all your art law issues.

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