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Van Gogh will stay at Yale, judge rules

As the international community concerns itself with Russia's recent takeover of Crimea, a federal judge in Hartford today ruled today in a case involving a long-ago Russian takeover—one with important implications for Yale and for international property law.

The Associated Press reports that Judge Alvin Thompson has rejected the claim of Pierre Konowaloff that The Night Café—the Van Gogh masterpiece that may well be Yale's most valuable painting—rightfully belongs to his family. The painting had once belonged to Konowaloff's great-grandfather, Russian industrialist Ivan Morozov, but Morozov's property was nationalized by the new Soviet government in 1918. In 2009, after Konowaloff informed Yale of his intention to seek the return of the painting or the payment of damages, the university sued in federal court to secure its own claim.

In the 1930s, the Soviets sold The Night Café to a Berlin gallery, which sold it to another gallery in new York. Stephen Carlton Clark, Yale Class of 1903, bought the painting from the second gallery, and he gave it to the Yale University Art Gallery when he died in 1960.

Konowaloff's attorneys argued that the Soviets' seizure of Morozov's collection was illegal, and thus the whole chain of possession was illegitimate. But Yale argued in court filings that the sale was legitimate and that ruling otherwise would cloud the title of "at least $20 billion of art in global commerce."

"We're pleased that the court has dismissed Konowaloff's claims," Yale's attorney, Jonathan Freiman ’98JD, told the AP. "The Night Café is a timeless masterpiece that the public can see free of charge, and in this suit Yale has worked to make sure it stays that way."


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Van Gogh, The Night Café, lawsuit
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