The Budapest Museum of Fine Arts has rejected an offer by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to enter into a co-ownership agreement for “The marriage feast at Cana”, a sixteenth-century oil on panel by Giorgio Vasari, bought in 1963 by the Montreal Museum and claimed by Budapest as a war loss. Lawyer Andrea Francoeur Mécs, who is seeking full recovery of the painting to Hungary says, “Pre-World War II ownership of the Vasari is uncontested.” The Budapest Museum first claimed back the painting in 1964, immediately after learning that Montreal had acquired it.
Ms Mécs, who has recently exchanged letters with the Montreal Museum and its lawyers, says Montreal should have asked more questions when it bought the painting during the Cold War as it was included in a 1952 catalogue of war losses. The Montreal Museum bought the Vasari from a Canadian resident, the daughter of a Hungarian who bought the painting at a Budapest store which the Canadians say was government-run. The Montreal Museum also maintains that under Quebec law it owns the Vasari because it bought it in good faith and ownership has been established by possession for three years. Last autumn, the Montreal Museum proposed that each museum could show the painting on its own premises for alternating periods of time, if the Budapest Museum would lend Montreal a painting of equal value during the period when it had the Vasari. But, replying in October 1997, Ms Mécs insisted on full ownership and asked for the painting’s return by 1 December.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Rejected: co-ownership for alleged war loot'