Art and Cultural Property

Smith Duggan Buell & Rufo has represented major universities, museums and collectors in the successful recovery of artwork and artifacts.

In cases involving title to missing art, we work closely with historians, experts, investigators, and in the appropriate cases, federal and state law enforcement agencies to locate stolen art, prove identity, and have it returned to its rightful owners. For example, in a hotly contested case with national press coverage, we obtained a judgment in the Eastern District of Virginia ordering a prominent private collector to return a priceless Tiffany Silver Civil War Presentation Sword to Brown University that had been missing from a collection for more than 40 years. Success required a thorough knowledge of the law of several states, application of multiple limitation statutes and a thorough understanding of the history of the piece and the circumstances surrounding the original presentation, the transfer to the museum, the theft, and the museum’s approach to recovery.

We have represented publications criticizing the authenticity of pieces, auctioneers and others accused of violating federal law or treaties (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or “CITES”) governing the transfer of artifacts and clients involved in challenges to title to personal property. We bring the same approach to all clients in this field, whether private collectors, auctioneers, art critics or institutions. We believe a thorough knowledge of the history of the piece is as essential to a successful outcome as an understanding of the substantive law.