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Art and Museum Law

News

Firm Secures Victory for Howard University, Paving the Way for Return of Important Artwork to Its Campus

October 21, 2022

On October 20, 2022, following a bench trial that took place in September 2022, a Court in the Southern District of New York entered judgment in favor of our client, Howard University, in a dispute concerning ownership of a historically significant artwork, Centralia Madonna, by the renowned artist Charles White.

The trial focused on the defendants’ affirmative defense of laches, pursuant to which the defendants claimed that they were prejudiced by the University’s purportedly unreasonable delay in filing suit over a work of art that had been removed from Howard’s campus decades earlier without the University’s knowledge or authorization.  The Court rejected that defense, finding that the defendants failed to prove that Howard knew or should have known at an earlier date that the artwork was in the possession of a third party; that the defendants failed to prove that Howard could have tracked down the artwork in the defendants’ possession even if it had been on notice; and that the balance of the equities favored Howard.

The Court’s decision allows for the return of Centralia Madonna to Howard University’s Gallery of Art, where it will be on display for the Howard University community and available to serve the pedagogical needs of Howard’s students, faculty, and visiting scholars.

The Patterson Belknap team included Peter C. Harvey, Jo Backer Laird, Clinton W. Morrison, and Charlotte Allyn.

To read the decision, click here.