Left: Picasso, “Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-6, Museum of Modern Art
Below: Picasso, “Le Moulin de la Galette,” 1900, Guggenheim Museum
Rather than go to trial over the fate of two of their most prized Picassos, Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation have just agreed to a settlement (terms undisclosed) with heirs of Paul and Elsa von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, the Nazi-era owners of MoMA’s “Boy Leading a Horse” and the Guggenheim’s “Le Moulin de la Galette.”
Under the agreement, which reportedly involves payment to the heirs, the museums will retain ownership of these masterworks.
The case began more than a year ago, when the museums teamed up to try to preempt an expected lawsuit from the heirs (the same plaintiffs who were seeking Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s almost-auctioned Picasso, “Angel Fernández de Soto”). They asked the court to declare MoMA and the Guggenheim to be the paintings’ rightful owners. At that time, the museums had asserted in a joint statement that “evidence from our extensive research makes clear the museums’ ownership of these works and also makes clear that Mr. [Julius] Schoeps [one of the heirs] has no basis for his claim.”
Judge Jed Rakoff (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) thought otherwise. He said there was sufficient evidence for him to order a trial, and he turned the case around (“repositioned the parties”), making the museums the defendants and the heirs the plaintiffs.
Here is an excerpt from Judge Rakoff’s Jan. 27 opinion:
While the record regarding the transfers of these Paintings
is meager, it is informed by the historical circumstances of Nazi
economic pressures brought to bear on “Jewish” persons and property,
or so a jury might reasonably infer….Claimants have adduced competent evidence that Paul never
intended to transfer any of his paintings and that he was forced to
transfer them only because of threats and economic pressures by the
Nazi government. Summary judgment [denying a trial] is therefore not appropriate.
Larry Neumeister of the Associated Press reports:
On Monday [today], the judge criticized that the settlement would keep secret
the history of the paintings. “I find it extraordinarily unfortunate
that the public will be left without knowing what the truth is,” Rakoff
He also said he would consider ordering some of the settlement information to be made public.
For you legal eagles, the case is: 07 Civ. 11074 (JSR).