Published: April 13, 2010
The United States District Court, District of Nevada, settled a longstanding dispute on April 8 between American illustration art specialist Judith Goffman Cutler, a third-party defendant/counter plaintiff, and plaintiff Jack Solomon. The case ultimately stretches back to 1973 and has centered around title to a Norman Rockwell painting known as “Russian Schoolroom.”
The history of the painting and its ownership is convoluted at times, quite clear at others.
It was reported stolen in 1973 from a Missouri art gallery, Arts International, which was owned by a company founded by Solomon. The theft was reported in the St Louis Globe-Democrat; however, Bert Elam and Arts International were listed as the victims, not Solomon.
After some 15 years, it reappeared on the marketplace in 1988 at the now-defunct Goldberg Auction Galleries in New Orleans during a well-publicized and advertised public auction.
The painting was purchased at Goldberg’s Louisiana Purchase Auction by Cutler, and court documents state that her “investigation into the provenance of ‘Russian Schoolroom’ prior to her purchase of it met or exceeded the standard of care in the art industry for art dealers.” The auction at Goldberg’s in 1988 preceded online art theft databases, such as the Art Loss Register.
Court documents also indicate that Solomon had “constructive knowledge of the &uction of ‘Russian Schoolroom,'” in 1988.
Testimonies during the case revealed that Goldberg’s knew that the painting “had been stolen,” and gallery owner Morton Goldberg had advised clients interested in the painting of that fact. At least one client was informed that “Police authorities, the insurer and the individual who owned it at the time it was stolen had all gotten involved and resolved the issue of title&” state court records. Further testimonies revealed that “Goldberg Auction Galleries was authorized to auction the painting.”
Cutler placed “Russian Schoolroom” into the collection of Stephen Spielberg in 1989 and everyone seemed pleased, until the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a report in 2006 stating that the painting was “stolen” and that it was seeking information on its whereabouts. In 2007, the FBI learned that Spielberg was in possession of the painting and “seized” it, although Spielberg was ultimately able to retain possession.
Solomon then reportedly filed suit against the FBI and Spielberg in an attempt to recover the painting and the ensuing court case began.
“I took Steven’s place in the case,” explained Cutler, reasoning that it was the proper thing to do since she was the purchaser at the auction and that Spielberg was her client. “I traded Spielberg another Rockwell of equivalent or greater value in May of 2007 to save him the aggravation of a lawsuit.”
On April 8, Chief United States District Judge Roger Hunt put an end to the litigation that has lasted some three years when he entered a judgment in favor of Cutler. “The court quiets title to ‘Russian Schoolroom’ in favor of Judy Cutler and declares her the true owner of the painting.”
Cutler seemed overjoyed with the news that has finally vindicated her. “The final decision was released,” stated Cutler, who for years has aggressively opposed the suit, and, “It was clear as a bell to the judge.”