The Kúria, Hungary’s supreme court, on Tuesday ruled in favour of the owner of Mihály Munkácsy’s Golgotha, and threw out an earlier, binding ruling under which the monumental painting was included in the list of cultural assets under national protection.
The painting had long been in foreign ownership when it was brought back from the United States in 1991 and put on display in Debrecen’s Déri Museum. Hungarian-born US art collector Imre Pakh bought it in 2003. Pakh and the Hungarian state entered into negotiations concerning the sale of the painting, but no agreement was reached.
Pakh intended to withdraw the painting from the museum, but the cultural heritage authority initiated proceedings aimed at extending national protection over the invaluable painting. Under regulations concerning protected artwork, such artefacts cannot be taken out of the country without the authority’s prior consent and they also stipulate a buyer’s option for the state should the owner decide to sell protected possessions.
Pakh appealed against the primary decision but a secondary court left the verdict in place, saying that Golgotha was an irreplaceable piece of Hungarian art, and added that “the restriction in Pakh’s ownership is not disproportionate compared to the protection of public interest”. The owner then applied for a Kúria review.
According to the Kúria ruling, Golgotha, in foreign ownership and on loan from a foreign country, was under a “return obligation” and should not have been declared protected by the Hungarian authority. In such cases Hungary is obliged to allow the artwork to be freely taken out of the country, they added.
The Kúria, however, has instructed the primary court to conduct a repeat procedure.