Top dealer's lost paintings finally to be sold

Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:28am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Paintings once belonging to Ambroise Vollard, one of the 20th century's most important art dealers depicted by Picasso and Renoir, go under the hammer this summer some 70 years after they were deposited in a bank vault.

Ending a lengthy legal dispute, the works will be auctioned by Sotheby's, with the highlight, a landscape by Andre Derain valued at 9-14 million pounds ($14-22 million), being sold in London on June 22 and the remaining 140 items in Paris.

The treasure trove was stored in a Parisian bank in 1939 shortly after Vollard's death and was part of a collection of drawings and paintings first offered for sale in 1981 by Societe Generale in order to recoup 40 years of unpaid storage fees.

But the sale was canceled when the heirs of Vollard and Erich Slomovic, the young gallery assistant who worked for Vollard and deposited the works at the bank, challenged it in court claiming the proceeds of the auction should go to them.

Slomovic, a Croatian Jew, had amassed his own collection of works by leading lights of French art and managed to get hundreds of them out of France to Yugoslavia during the war, according to specialist art journals.

But he was eventually detained by the Nazis and is presumed to have died at or on his way to a concentration camp.

Many of the works Slomovic took to Yugoslavia ended up in the National Museum of Belgrade, and accounts differ as to whether they were donated or seized.

The dispute over ownership of the treasure trove hidden in the Parisian bank was exacerbated by the fact that both Slomovic and Vollard died at around the same time -- Vollard was killed in a car accident in 1939 and had no direct heirs.   Continued...