David Rowland, Lawyer Who Secured Recovery of Nazi Looted Artworks for Heirs of Jewish Collectors Dies at 67
Edited by: Fern Sidman
David Rowland, a tenacious lawyer known for his relentless efforts in recovering looted artworks for the heirs of Jewish collectors persecuted by the Nazis, passed away on August 15 at his Manhattan residence, as was reported by the New York Times. He was 67 years old, and his death resulted from a sudden heart-related illness, according to his sister, Elizabeth Rowland Gagne.
Rowland’s legal career was marked by a series of high-profile successes in the challenging field of art restitution. Notably, in 2006, he secured the return of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s 1913 painting “Berlin Street Scene” from the Brücke Museum in Berlin, according to the NYT report. In 2020, he achieved the return of 200 prints and drawings by renowned artists like Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, and Marc Chagall from the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland, the report added. These accomplishments followed more than a decade of relentless efforts on behalf of the heirs.
The Basel restitution followed more than a decade of persistent petitioning by Rowland on behalf of the heirs.
Svetlana V. Petroff, his longtime business partner and friend, said, “The hallmark of David’s professional engagement was perseverance,” as was reported by the NYT. She added that, He persevered over time and against adversity.”
Rowland’s legal journey began when he left a New York law firm, Röhm International, in 1989 to establish his practice on Park Avenue. It was at Rohm International that he worked with Petroff whom he had met while both were attending the New York Law School. In 1990, Petroff joined Rowland to form their own firm known as Rowland & Petroff, the NYT report said.
The New York Times report indicated that in the early years, Rowland focused on real estate restitution and compensation claims for German Jews and their descendants in Eastern Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As those claims dwindled, Rowland shifted his focus to recovering Nazi-looted art, recognizing the importance of preserving cultural heritage, the NYT report added.
Art restitution can be legally complex, often hampered by technical barriers such as statutes of limitation. According to the NYT report, Rowland entered the field just as the international community adopted the Washington Principles in 1998, which were nonbinding guidelines on returning Nazi-looted art housed in public collections. He became one of the first U.S. lawyers to specialize in this area, championing the rights of Jewish art claimants beyond his clients, according to the NYT report. He wrote articles and attended conferences to promote their cause.
Speaking to the NYT, Julius Niesert, an associate at Rowland & Petroff in Berlin said