New York's Met is sued over Picasso sold in Nazi, Fascist era

Fri Sep 30, 2016 2:49pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan was sued on Friday for the return of a Pablo Picasso masterpiece allegedly sold under duress in 1938 because of Nazi and Fascist persecution in Europe.

A complaint was filed in Manhattan federal court by the great-grandniece of Paul Leffmann, a Jewish industrialist from Germany who once owned "The Actor," a rare work from Picasso's Rose Period in 1904 and 1905.

Laurel Zuckerman, who handles estate matters for Leffmann's widow Alice, is alternatively seeking more than $100 million of damages.

She joins others seeking to reclaim art taken or sold after Nazis took power in Germany, and as Europe plunged toward war.

The Met in a statement said it has "indisputable title" to "The Actor" and will defend its rights.

Zuckerman said Paul Leffmann sold "The Actor" to two art dealers in June 1938 for $12,000 to fund an escape to Switzerland from Benito Mussolini's regime in Italy, where he and his wife had fled from Germany the prior year.

This occurred soon after a state visit by German chancellor Adolf Hitler made clear that Jews in Italy were endangered, and "there was no time left" to act, the complaint said.

The Met acquired "The Actor" in a 1952 donation, but failed to properly investigate its provenance, and only after decades of incorrect cataloguing finally in 2011 acknowledged Leffmann's ownership and sale, the complaint said.   Continued...