- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor is fighting a family’s claim that a Vincent van Gogh painting she owns was taken from one of their ancestors by Nazis.

Descendants of Margarete Mauthner claim that “View of the Asylum of Saint-Remy” was taken from the German woman during World War II, and are demanding that Miss Taylor return the painting, which appraisers said could fetch $10 million to $15 million at auction.

Miss Taylor, whose father bought her the painting at a London auction in 1963, has filed a lawsuit seeking a pre-emptive court declaration that she is the rightful owner of the painting, which hangs in the living room of her Bel-Air estate.

Last month, Miss Taylor said she has “a tremendous amount of sympathy” for those who lost possessions during World War II and the Holocaust. She said she told her lawyers to thoroughly investigate the ownership history of the 115-year-old van Gogh.

“I have not been presented with any information that suggests the painting was ever in Nazi possession, nor that there is any other basis for these claims,” the two-time Oscar winner said.

Seeking the painting are Canadian lawyer Andrew J. Orkin, his South African siblings F. Mark Orkin and Sarah-Rose Josepha Adler, and their uncle, A. Heinrich Zille, whose home country was unavailable. Andrew Orkin is Mrs. Mauthner’s great-grandson, said his attorney, Thomas Hamilton.

Miss Taylor’s attorneys acknowledge in her lawsuit, filed May 25 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, that Nazis forced Mrs. Mauthner and her family to give up their jobs, pensions and homes. But they say they could find no “specific information about how or when she ‘lost possession’ of the painting.”

Andrew Orkin, an Ontario resident, refused to comment. Family lawyer John Byrne of Washington also had no comment.

Miss Taylor’s lawyers say Mrs. Mauthner voluntarily sold the painting, which depicts the asylum where van Gogh lived toward the end of his life. Citing a German art book, they said Mrs. Mauthner owned more than one van Gogh painting and sold her last one in 1933 to finance her family’s move from Germany to South Africa.

According to Miss Taylor’s court documents, the painting passed to German art dealer Marcel Goldschmidt, and then to art collector Alfred Wolf, before being auctioned in 1963. That year, her father, Francis Taylor, bought the painting on his daughter’s behalf for $257,600.

Robert Levy, a Beverly Hills appraiser, said it could go as high as $15 million today.

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