I've got a number of emails and posts that I've fallen behind on and hope to catch up on (the emails, at least; unfinished blog posts don't age well), but before I get to those I wanted to note Geoff Edger's new article on the MFA's suit to establish rightful ownership of its great Kokoschka painting of the artist with his then-mistress Alma Mahler, Two Nudes. The museum evidently is seeking to block a potential claim against it by heirs of the former owner who contest that it was taken in a forced sale. Obviously that sort of thing happened far too often, and the products of a forced sale are every bit as needful of restitution as if they had been confiscated outright; the question lies with documenting what actually happened. The museum evidently feels that such was not the case in this instance, and therefore naturally wants to keep its painting:
"The painting was never confiscated by the Nazis, was never sold by force as a result of Nazi persecution, and was not otherwise taken from Dr. Reichel," the MFA complaint stated.
"Would you also say that people who sold things [during] the Depression, yes, they sold them under duress?" [the MFA's deputy director] said. "Yes, if somebody sells their house now because they can't meet their high mortgage payment, is that a forced sale of a house? I think it's very dangerous to make the supposition that everything that happened during a period of time was forced."
It seems to me that the quote above is a tough public relations sell given that it's offering analogies to Nazi persecution and the Holocaust, but if the facts are as the museum alleges in the article, I'd have to agree with the underlying point. Obviously one wants to know more before deciding definitively, but forced sales are often a tricky thing to determine, and they are not the same as sales stemming from a tragic situation. One might say that the owner was forced by circumstances to do something, but to consider that to rise to the level of what typically has been understood as a forced sale would expand the range of potential claims in a way that I don't believe has previously been accepted or, in my view, should be accepted. That doesn't mean it's a happy situation, but at some point there are limits.
UPDATE: A few slight edits made. Also, this may only be of interest to me, possibly some others, but did you know that Sitemeter interprets webpage visitors from the Boston MFA as originating from safeway.com? It's true.