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Charles Goldstein, Counsel Who Helped Recover $160 M. in Stolen Art, Dies at 78


Charles Goldstein.


Charles Goldstein, known as one of the greatest legal minds working in New York real estate and, later, for the recovery of artwork looted from Holocaust victims, died on July 30 in Manhattan at the age of 78.

Born in 1936, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Goldstein attended Columbia College and then Harvard Law School. He then served as a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit before moving into the hard-boiled real-estate game in the 1960s. Over the course of the next three decades, Goldstein also held estimable positions such as personal attorney to New York state governor Hugh L. Carey and consultant to the Urban Development Corporation. In the early 1990s, he was again approached with a prestigious offer: the opportunity to serve as lead counsel to the Commission for Art Recovery (CAR), founded by Ronald S. Lauder, the ambassador and president of the World Jewish Congress. Since its foundation in 1997, the World Jewish Congress has specialized in recovering art stolen from Holocaust victims and their families during WWII, as well as work later annexed by the Allies. The New York Times describes the fateful circumstances that led to the offer:

“Mr. Goldstein joined the art recovery commission by happenstance, his law partner Harvey Feuerstein recalled. In the early 1990s, Mr. Lauder was flying home on the Concorde from Europe when he posed a challenging real estate question to a friend. The friend noticed Mr. Goldstein a few rows back and introduced him. Mr. Lauder was so impressed, he hired Mr. Goldstein full time and, when he formed the commission, named him counsel.”

The same obituary in the Times reports that since its inception, the organization has “recovered or helped recover more than $160 million worth of stolen art,” including Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (the subject of the 2015 film Woman In Gold, starring Helen Mirren) and Courbet’s Femme nue couchée. The recovery of the latter work was the subject of a 2008 ARTnews feature, titled “The Mysterious Journey of an Erotic Masterpiece.” An example of Goldstein’s character appears toward the end:

“When he couldn’t sell the painting in Western Europe, the antiques dealer decided to try his luck closer to home. In 2004 a young official of the Bratislava branch of a respected Austrian bank, working in the department of private banking, contacted CAR, demanding $1.5 million for the painting, which he said was sitting in his vault as collateral for a loan. The banker threatened to sell it if CAR refused to pay. Shocked, Goldstein demanded an explanation from the Austrian bank. The official in Bratislava was immediately fired, but the Courbet was lost again.”

The Courbet was eventually returned to its rightful owner, though Goldstein acknowledged a larger problem he was tackling in an interview with ARTnews five years later: “We have not made progress in getting countries to examine their collections…countries are waiting for claims to be made, and they are more or less cooperative in researching them. It’s reactive. There is [also] no evidence that the museums are continuing to examine their collections.”

A note, dated July 30, has been added to Goldstein’s profile page on the website of his law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP. His colleagues write that after refocusing his practice, he soon became an internationally acclaimed expert on the subject of restitution:

“Charles…[was] responsible for all governmental affairs and litigation arising out of CAR’s activities in Europe and the United States, and supervised claims, negotiations and litigation in many countries around the world. [He] was also a frequent lecturer at art restitution seminars in the U.S. and Europe, and the author of numerous articles on the subject. Lawyers, government officials, experts, journalists and others throughout the world regularly sought his sage advice.”

They add,
 “It was a true inspiration for many of us to work so closely with Charles.”

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