Saturday, 13 April 2013

Heirs file suit over forced Nazi era selling of Picasso painting worth millions

Heirs file suit over forced Nazi era selling of Picasso painting worth millions, The heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy – a prominent Berlin Banker of Jewish descent who suffered Nazi persecution – have filed suit against the German State of Bavaria in New York to recover an iconic oil painting by Pablo Picasso, entitled Madame Soler (1903) from the artist’s “blue period.”

Nearly 70 years after the defeat of the Third Reich, descendants of the victims of Nazi plundering say they are being denied equitable solutions and restitution by various foreign governments that refuse to consider overwhelming evidence to reclaim priceless artwork stolen from Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The victims families are filing the cases in courts around the world to seek justice.

In 1933, the year the Nazis took power, Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy owned one of the five largest banks in Germany. He came from a prominent Jewish family whose ancestors included famous composer Felix Mendelssohn and the enlightenment philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn.

Banker Paul Von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy quickly became a target of the Nazi agenda to exclude Jews from the economy of Germany and to deprive them of their property. The Nazis efforts to eradicate Jewish owned banks (the Mendelssohn Bank was established in 1795) resulted in Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's income to plunge to nearly 90% of what it was within 2 years. The banker also knew that the Nazis were seizing Jewish -owned art collections. With his income deeply slashed, he was forced to turn to his priceless art collection for funds -- consisting of master works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, among others -- which was also in grave danger of being plundered by the Nazi regime.

Among 16 master works Mendelssohn sold or consigned, Picasso's Madame Soler was gotten to a Nazi-persecuted art dealer Justin Thannhauser in 1934 who had fled to Switzerland. Thirty years later, in 1964, Thannhauser sold the exquisite painting to the Bavarian State Paintings Collections (BSSPC) in New York City. Shockingly, representing the Bavarian government in the purchase was former Nazi Party member Halldor Soehner. The current lawsuit charges that Soehner expressly knew the painting's “Jewish Provenence” yet failed to ask about the painting's background including how the painting was bought or whether Thannhauser paid for it.

In the 174 page filing, the heirs are challenging the Bavarian government's current refusal to restitute Madame Soler or even apply its own prescribed criteria for Holocaust era restitution claims. In 2009 the Mendelssohn heirs sought restitution from the BSPC for the painting. The lawsuit was filed after the Bavarian government refused to recognize evidence of the forced transfer of Madame Soler or allow the heirs to submit their claim to a German federal government established to hear claims of Nazi -era artwork.

The lawsuit was filed in New York since the purchase of Madame Soler occurred there and one also one of the heirs also has a residence in New York.

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