Rockwell Revisited

If not Steven Spielberg, who legally owns Russian Schoolroom?

Litigation surrounding a Norman Rockwell painting stolen from St. Louis in 1973 continues to wend its way through court. In February of this year, filmmaker Steven Spielberg contacted authorities after discovering the 1967 oil work Russian Schoolroom in his collection was listed on the FBI's Web site for missing art.

Three months later on May 16, Jack Solomon, the owner of the now-defunct Clayton gallery from which the painting disappeared during an early-morning burglary, filed suit against Spielberg and the FBI claiming ownership to the painting. That same month Judy Goffman Cutler, the East Coast art dealer who sold Spielberg the painting in 1989 for $200,000, filed suit against Solomon. She alleged that he defamed her during an interview with Riverfront Times earlier this spring. The article quotes Solomon as saying dealer Goffman Cutler "should have known better" and should have "checked that there's been a record of this ever since the day it was stolen."

Last month Goffman Cutler dismissed the defamation suit she filed in a New York federal court, which had sought $20 million in damages. Her husband and business partner Laurence Cutler says his wife may re-file the suit in Solomon's home state of Nevada. "It was dismissed without prejudice," notes Goffman Cutler. "We are going to continue to assert our rights to defend ourselves and to claim ownership of the painting." Goffman Cutler recently hired the prestigious New York law firm Shearman & Sterling to represent her in any further litigation.

In Nevada federal court last month, Solomon dropped the FBI from his suit to recover the painting, and Spielberg's attorneys have filed a claim, asking that he, too, be dismissed from the lawsuit. In May Spielberg transferred the title of Russian Schoolroom back to the art dealer in exchange for another Rockwell painting. "It's really between two people now (Solomon and Goffman Cutler)," says Spielberg's spokesman Marvin Levy. "Steven is an innocent bystander in all this."

Solomon's attorney, Michael Mushkin, says his client does not want to "punish" the Academy Award-winning director for going to the FBI and acknowledges that Spielberg will likely be dropped from the suit in place of Goffman Cutler. No trial dates have yet been set for that case, nor has the FBI reported any additional information into the original theft of Russian Schoolroom.

 
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