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Trienens, Howard J.


Howard J. Trienens completed both his undergraduate and graduate education at Northwestern University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1945 and his J.D. in 1949. He served with the U.S. Air Force from 1943 to 1946. In 1949, he was admitted to the Illinois Bar and joined the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Burgess and Harper (Chicago). Trienens, an expert in public utility and railroad law, became a partner of Sidley & Austin in 1956. Trienens also served as U.S. General Counsel of AT&T (1980-86) and as director of the G. D. Searle Company and the R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company.

Trienens married Paula Miller, a 1947 graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, in 1946. Paula and Howard Trienens continued to be involved in Northwestern; she served as the president of the Alumnae of Northwestern, and he was elected vice president of the Northwestern Alumni Association in 1966 and has served as a Trustee of the University since his election to the Board of Trustees in 1967 (Chairman of the Board, 1986-1996). The “Searle/Degas” case (Nick Goodman, et al. v. Daniel C. Searle), 1995-1999

This series documents legal proceedings involving a Degas monotype owned by one of Trienens' clients.

On the recommendation of curators at the Art Institute of Chicago, Searle, an art collector, purchased a Degas monotype entitled Landscape with Smokestacks (Paysage avec fumée de cheminées, 1890) in 1987 from the private collection of Emile Wolf, a New York collector. Wolf had bought the picture in 1951 from a Swiss art dealer. Both Wolf and Searle lent the picture to exhibits in various cities in the United States, and it had been included in exhibit catalogues and in volumes about Degas’ work.

In 1995, when Searle was considering selling the monotype, he was contacted by an attorney representing the heirs of Dutch art collector Friedrich Gutmann, who had purchased the picture in 1932 and who had died in a concentration camp in 1944. Gutmann’s heirs—daughter Lili Gutmann and grandsons Nick and Simon Goodman—believed that this picture, along with many other paintings and art objects belonging to Gutmann and his wife, had been confiscated by the Germans and sold illegally to the Swiss dealer from whom Wolf had acquired the picture in 1951. The heirs had spent many years searching for and reclaiming other works and objects from the Gutmann collection.

The plaintiffs argued that Searle should have known, or suspected, that this picture might have been among the thousands of Jewish-owned art objects confiscated and illegally sold during the German occupation of Holland and France. Although Searle and the curators believed the provenance of the picture to be clear and untarnished, the Gutmann heirs felt that the purchaser must have been aware that two of dealers listed on the provenance were accused of purveying confiscated art. Searle’s defense was based on the fact that it could not be proven that the picture in question had not been legally sold by Gutmann during his lifetime. There was evidence that Gutmann had sent some objects from his collection to his art dealer in Paris to sell, and that indeed certain items had been sold and Gutmann remunerated, although other Gutmann artworks had been confiscated by the Germans. The existing paperwork relating to the collection—letters from Gutmann to his children, bills of sale, records kept by art dealers and storage facilities (using false names to protect Jewish owners), inventories made by Germans and by a French curator/spy at the Jeu de Paume, where confiscated art was stored—though extensive, was subject to interpretation, and on the subject of the Landscape with Smokestacks it was inconclusive.

The defense also stressed the tardiness of the demand for the return of the picture. Because the work had been publicly displayed and cited in exhibit catalogues and studies of Degas since the 1960s, the heirs should have been able to trace it much earlier. The case was further complicated by issues of jurisdiction (Lili Gutmann was a Dutch citizen living in Italy; the Goodmans, British citizens, lived in California; Searle, an Illinois resident, had purchased the picture in New York; and Wolf had purchased it in Switzerland).

The complaint was filed in federal court in New York in 1996, and, at Sidley & Austin’s request, transferred later that year to the federal court in Chicago. The Goodman/Gutmanns also publicized the situation in interviews on radio and television and in the press. Although efforts were made by both sides to reach a settlement out of court, the case proceeded toward a trial.

An out-of-court settlement was finally reached in August, 1998: after assessments by two mutually-agreed upon appraisers, the parties would split ownership of the picture 50/50; Searle would donate his half to the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Goodman/Gutmanns would sell the museum their share for one-half of the appraised value. The appraisals eventually averaged $487,500; in May, 1999, the Goodman/Gutmann’s were duly paid $243,750 by the Art Institute, and Daniel Searle took a tax deduction in an equal amount. Landscape with Smokestacks, now owned solely by the Art Institute of Chicago, bears a label reading “Purchased from the collection of Friedrich and Louise Gutmann, and gift of Daniel C. Searle.”

The major figures involved in the case included several members of Sidley & Austin in addition to Trienens (Thomas Cauley, Susan Davies, Ralph Lerner, and Henry Mason); Nick and Simon Goodman and Lili Gutmann and their attorney, Thomas R. Kline of Andrews & Kurth, L.L.P.; and the Art Institute of Chicago and its legal counsel, Thaddeus Stauber of Eckhart, McSwain, Silliman & Sears. Other important participants included Margo Pollins Schab, the New York art dealer who had arranged the sale of the Degas to Searle; Suzanne McCullagh and Douglas Druick, curators, of the Art Institute of Chicago; expert witnesses for the Goodmans (Lynn Nicholas, Linda Pinkerton, and Arthur von Mehren), and Hermine Chivain-Cobb, art consultant to Sidley & Austin, who analyzed key documents and provided translations and interpretation.

For a description of the case from start to finish, see Howard J. Trienens, Landscape with Smokestacks: the Case of the Allegedly Plundered Degas (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2000); on the dispersal of artwork during German occupation and World War II, see Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994; reprint, New York: Vintage Books, 1995).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Howard J. Trienens (1923-) Papers, 1986-1999 "Searle/Degas" Case

Identifier: 1/15
Abstract Howard J. Trienens completed both his undergraduate and graduate education at Northwestern University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1945 and his J.D. in 1949. The papers of Howard J. Trienens consist of his case file from the Searle/Degas legal proceedings--Nick Goodman, et al. v. Searle. The case involved a Degas monotype ("Landscape with smokestacks", or "Paysage avec fumée de cheminées", 1890) owned by one of Trienens' clients. The...