U.S. judge limits suit on Hungarian looted art

WASHINGTON (AP) – The heirs of a Jewish art collector can proceed with a lawsuit against Hungary seeking the return of art seized during the Holocaust that is worth more than $100 million, a federal judge ruled.

But the heirs will have to limit their lawsuit after a U.S. District Court judge in Washington on Thursday dismissed their claims on 11 paintings out of more than 40 in contention. The collection of Baron Mor Lipot Herzog included paintings by Renaissance artist El Greco and Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran.

David de Csepel, Herzog’s great grandson, and two other heirs sued Hungary and several state-owned museums seeking the return of works that included paintings by same pair of artists.

Herzog died in 1934. His collection, which at its zenith may have grown to as many as 2,500 objects and numerous paintings from the Old Masters, including 10 by El Greco, was inherited by his three children after his wife’s death in 1940.

With the onset of World War II and the persecution of the Herzogs and other Jews, the collection began to be dismantled. Some artworks were taken by the Nazis and Russia’s Red Army. Others may have been stolen, and some were seized by Hungary’s former communist government.

According to experts, Adolf Eichmann, who oversaw the deportation of more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, took some of the masterpieces for his own collection.

The art sought by the heirs is housed in Hungary’s National Gallery and several Budapest institutions: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Applied Arts and the University of Technology and Economics.

A 16th century portrait by German painter and engraver Georg Pencz of businessman Sigismund Baldinger, which was restituted by Germany to Herzog’s heirs last year, was sold in July at a Christie’s auction for $8.56 million.

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