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Nazi-era Picasso painting stays with NY Met

February 8, 2018

German businessman Paul Leffmann sold Picasso's "The Actor" in 1938 to escape Nazi Germany with his wife. His great-grand-niece has lost a lawsuit aimed at returning the piece to the family estate.

Picasso's "The Actor"
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Lane

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the New York Metropolitan Museum could not be forced to return a Picasso painting to the descendant of a Jewish businessman who sold it underpriced to flee Nazi Germany.

Judge Loretta Preska said Laurel Zuckerman could not prove her great-grand-uncle, Paul Leffman, had sold the painting under "duress" despite the unfortunate circumstances.

Read more: German authorities reportedly discover 1,500 paintings seized by Nazis

The facts of the case

  • Paul Leffman was a German Jewish businessman who sold Picasso's 1905 painting "The Actor" to two art dealers for $13,200 to escape with his wife from Nazi-allied Italy to neutral Switzerland in 1938.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art received the painting as a donation in 1952, but did not acknowledge Leffman's prior ownership until 2011.
  • Zuckerman, who sought the painting's return and more than $100 million (€820 million) in damages, argued that her family should not lose ownership of the piece given the circumstances of the sale and the fact that Leffman was allegedly forced to sell the painting below its actual value.

Read more: Nazi looted art cases remain unsolved mysteries

Who said what

Judge Preska said in her 50-page ruling that Leffman did not sell the painting under duress because the sale "occurred between private individuals, not at the command of the fascist or Nazi governments."

Zuckerman's lawyer, Lawrence Kaye, said: "Our client is very disappointed with the decision and intends to appeal."

The Met said the decision was "well-reasoned" and proved it was the "rightful owner" of "The Actor."

Damaged good: The painting was repaired after an art student fell into it and caused a six-inch (15 centimeter) tear in January 2010.

Returning Jewish art: Nazi Germany seized art works from Jews throughout occupied Europe during the Second World War. Descendants of many of the victims have filed lawsuits in recent years to force their return. In November 2017, a French court ordered a Camille Pissarro painting seized from a Jewish art collector by France's wartime government, which was allied with Nazi Germany, to be returned to the collector's family.

amp/aw (Reuters, AP)