McGeorge School of Law community mourns the passing of alumnus who dedicated career to recovering Jewish artwork stolen during WWII

Five people pose for a photo in front of a bookcase

David Rowland, '87, (middle) and Svetlana Petroff, '91, (far right) are pictured with colleagues at their New York firm, Rowland & Petroff.

McGeorge School of Law alumnus David Rowland, ’87, passed away in his home on August 15. Rowland dedicated over 30 years of his career to working on international legal transactions, including the restitution of Jewish-owned East German property following German reunification. The McGeorge School of Law community mourns his passing and the impact he made on the Jewish community.

Rowland was among the first U.S. lawyers to focus on Nazi-looted art, and he championed the rights of Jewish art claimants beyond his clients, writing articles, and attending conferences to promote their cause. He made an impact in the recovery of hundreds of looted artworks for the heirs of Jewish collectors who had been persecuted by the Nazis. Rowland represented claimants in several high-profile art restitution cases, including the recovery of the “Watzmann” by Caspar David Friedrich and the restitution of the “Berlin Street Scene” by Ernst Ludwig. Rowland represented Alfred Hess, who ran a shoe-manufacturing business in the east-German city of Erfurt before World War II. The family had one of the most comprehensive collections of German Expressionist art at that time, around 4,000 artworks.

After graduating from New York Law School in 1983, Rowland returned to Europe, attending a University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law international law program at the University of Salzburg. Rowland spent several months studying at the University of Salzburg and working for a law firm in Munich.

Rowland was a partner in practice with Svetlana Petroff, McGeorge LLM ’91, at Rowland & Petroff. They have known each other since they were students at New York Law School over 40 years ago. Before opening their own practice, Petroff and Rowland worked at a smaller firm together for about five years. They both had a strong interest in international law, and both spoke German and French, and, eventually, international law became the focus of their law practice together.

Petroff explained that, when she and Rowland started their own practice, it was a comfortable transition because they had years of practice experience and felt assured, they would be able to offer the same level and quality of legal services and representation.

For over 20 years, Rowland focused his practice on the art claims and developed his expertise. He became noted in the field as an authority, who published and lectured in this subject area.

“He was passionate about art recovery and restitution because of his dedication to achieving equity and justice. His sense that the loss of these artworks by the collectors under duress was something that needed to be rectified,” Petroff said.

In addition, Rowland participated in conferences, discussion groups, and engaged privately in correspondence with others in the field (attorneys, museums, public institutions, and government agencies). He was someone who was very tenacious in pursuing claims on behalf of his clients and even in the face of adversity or resistance; Rowland was known to keep pressing in the face of resistance and for developing new arguments or finding new venues for pressing the claims.

“Petroff and Rowland will continue to be dedicated to the same goals of providing quality and personalized legal services to their clients,” Petroff said.

For more information about McGeorge School of Law, visit our website.

Media Contacts: