Leila Amineddoleh ’06, an expert on art, cultural heritage, and intellectual property law, played a key role in a story that recently drew nationwide attention. In August 2018, as reported in numerous media outlets, vintage goods store owner Laura Young, of Austin, Texas, bought an ancient-looking marble sculpture for $35 from her local Goodwill. When an inquiry to the auction house Sotheby’s identified the piece as a first century AD Roman bust looted during World War II, Young sought advice from the New York City-based Amineddoleh on how to return it to its rightful owner, a state-run museum in Germany.
The matter was unusual in at least three ways, says Amineddoleh. While most art that went missing in the war was looted by German soldiers or Nazi Party members, this piece appears to have been stolen by a GI or purchased by a GI from someone who had stolen it. Secondly, the piece, in addition to its Roman origins, had historical significance in having once belonged to King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Finally, Young’s wish to return the piece stood out for Aminedolleh, who more typically represents governments suing to force the return of artworks. “Collectors want to hold onto these treasures,” she says. “If Laura had kept [the bust] privately at home, no one would have known about it.”
On Young’s behalf, Amineddoleh struck a deal with the Bavarian state government. Before it was returned, the piece would spend a year at the San Antonio Art Museum. In addition, Bavaria would pay the costs of shipping and insuring the recovered bust, and Young would get a finder’s fee. Amineddoleh declines to say how big a fee except that it’s more than the $35 Young spent on the bust.