New York, London-The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan is being sued 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, an 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.
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.
Zuckerman had learned about the painting in 2010 and demanded its return. An agreement putting the case on hold expired on Friday.
Lawrence Kaye, a lawyer for Zuckerman, said many European tribunals have ordered the return of artwork sold under duress in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, though such cases have been less common in the United States.