They are a seductive pair: Adam, on a painted panel more than 6 feet tall, holds the apple of temptation. Eve, watched closely by a serpent, cradles an apple on her own panel moments before the act that will lead to the biblical couple’s expulsion from Eden.
The two masterpieces, created by German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder around 1530 and eventually purchased by American industrialist Norton Simon in 1971, are displayed prominently in the northeast gallery of the Pasadena museum that is named after him.
The tangled history of how they got there has been the focus of a nearly decade-long legal struggle by the daughter-in-law of the Dutch Jewish art dealer whose firm was coerced into selling “Adam” and “Eve” decades ago to the Nazis, along with tens of thousands of great works of art owned by Jews.
She wants them back, arguing that the works — believed to now be worth tens of millions of dollars — were looted by the Nazis. But last week U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter ruled that the Norton Simon Museum is the rightful owner of the paintings.
But Kevin P. Ray, a lawyer who specializes in art and cultural heritage law at Greenberg Traurig in Chicago, said Langenbein’s Nazi membership likely “would not play any part in the court’s decision.”