The New York Times has reported that the estate of a German businessman has sued the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Friday to claim one of its valuable Picassos, “The Actor” (1904-05), alleging in the court filing that the museum does not hold title to the painting because the businessman was forced to sell the work for a low amount after fleeing the Nazis in the late 1930s.  The treasured oil on canvas depicts an attenuated male figure making hand gestures that signaled the beginning of Picasso’s interest in “the theatrical world of acrobats and saltimbanques” during the artist’s Rose Period.  The painting is estimated to be worth more than $100 million said lawyers for the estate in the court filing.

In the court filing it is alleged that the museum “did not disclose or should have known that the painting had been owned by a Jewish refugee, Paul Leffmann, who had disposed of the work only because of Nazi and Fascist persecution.”  The lawsuit alleges that the sale of the painting was made under duress to a collector of Picasso’s work and Picasso’s dealer for $13,200 in 1938.  In 1941, Thelma Chrysler Foy bought the painting through a New York art gallery for $22,500 and eventually donated it to the Met in 1952 where the painting has been continuously displayed since.  The lawyers for the estate said that they had conducted negotiations with the Met while the claim was being investigated by the museum, but the parties had never been able to reach a settlement.

In a statement, the Met “strenuously denied there were grounds for the claim, asserting that the 1938 sale had been for fair market value and had not been made under duress.”  The museum added that the German businessman and his family did not make any claim on the painting after the war when trying to reclaim property they had been forced to sell.

The lawyers for the estate have criticized the museum claiming that for a number of years it had given an “erroneous provenance” for the painting until being corrected in 2011.  The Met indicated that the provenance was not erroneous as it was based on the recollection of the buyer at the time.  The provenance reflected that the painting was owned by a German in Switzerland and was updated as further information became available, according to the museum.

The suit is Zuckerman v. Metropolitan Museum of Art, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-07665.

UPDATE: In follow up to our posts regarding the Peter Doig lawsuit, last month, a federal court in Illinois declared that the disputed work signed “Peter Doige 76” is not the work of famous Scottish born artist Peter Doig.  Among the many odd facts presented in this case was the glaring issue that “Doig” and “Doige” are two different names. This case demonstrates that authentication, even by the living artist himself, can prove to be a costly endeavor for all parties involved.

There may be some lessons learned from the Doig matter:

In this digital age, creating a definitive catalogue of work may be easier than ever for living artists, and artists that want to maintain control over their body of work should take advantage of innovative technologies that permit them to document their works.  The fact that the Doig matter went to trial demonstrates that the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) is not the panacea for all of the legal issues facing artists. In particular, VARA provides artists rights for disavowing damaged or modified work but does not address when the art is misattributed.

In a recent interview, Doig commented on the time and money wasted on the lawsuit.  It is not clear whether the plaintiff will appeal the court’s decision.

Further to our post below regarding the trial over the authenticity of a painting alleged to have been made by the Scottish painter Peter Doig, some interesting notes regarding the waning days of the trial were captured by artnet.  Among them:

* The lawyers and the Judge differed as to the pronunciation of Doig’s name;

* During cross-examination, the attorney representing the plaintiffs asked whether the work in question was a painted by “Captain Butterknife.”

* The question of whether Doig was incarcerated at Thunder Bay as alleged by the plaintiffs appeared to have been left unanswered.

The final verdict is expected to be given orally in the coming weeks.

Read more here.

By Daniel Schnapp.

Scottish artist Peter Doig claims he didn’t paint the painting depicted below, and now he is forced to prove it at trial.  The New York Times recently reported on this strange case of art authentication, involving Doig’s disavowal of the painting and alleged mistaken identity.  Read full article here.



The owner of the painting is a former corrections officer who alleges that in 1975 he purchased the painting from Doig, who was incarcerated at a Canadian detention facility at that time.  Doig denies having ever been near the detention facility, or ever being incarcerated. The lawsuit is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an in-depth story on the Goulandris art collection, which is currently in the middle of one of the largest and most complex legal disputes over ownership of art in Europe.

The story involves a private art collection valued as much as $3 billion that has been mostly out of public view over the past two decades, an offshore company used by a secret seller to put up artwork for auction, and a dispute that essentially boils down to a non-existent will and an inscrutable one.

The late Greek shipping mogul Basil Goulandris and his late wife, Elise, amassed one of the world’s most significant private art collections, which included several hundred pieces of treasures by a number of renowned artists such as Picasso, van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Degas, Pollock, and Balthus.

For further information on this intriguing saga involving the Goulandris art collection, visit The $3 Billion Family Art Feud.

In recent art world news is a story about a treasured 1918 oil painting by Amedeo Modigliani of a seated chocolate merchant in a hat and tie holding a cane (“Seated Man with a Cane”).  Art dealer and billionaire David Nahmad is principal of the Nahmad holding company (International Art Center) that purchased the work at auction in 1996 and has owned it since then.

The grandson of a Jewish antiques dealer, however, claims that the Modigliani painting is the same work that was stolen from his relative’s shop in Paris during the Nazi occupation and sold off over 70 years ago.

For nearly five years, the grandson, Philippe Maestracci, and the Mondex Corporation, a company specializing in the recovery of looted art on behalf of beneficiaries, have pursued a claim in New York state and federal courts for the work, which was once estimated to be valued at around $25 million.

Nahmad, a scion of a family of international art dealers, remains determined that he will not settle the case.  In support of his position, the art dealer relies on an obscure French court document dated 1947 that he asserts raises doubt as to whether his painting is the same Modigliani painting that antiques dealer, Oscar Stettiner, had tried to recover after the Second World War.  The court document, which was filed in connection with Stettiner’s claim in 1946 to recover the painting, describes the work as a “Modigliani self-portrait” and not as a painting of a chocolate merchant.

Conflicting evidence cited by Maestracci includes the provenance listing when Nahmad’s holding company attempted to sell the disputed painting through Sotheby’s in 2008.  The auction house listed Stettiner as a possible previous owner of the painting and indicated that the painting had been sold anonymously between 1940 and 1945.

Nahmad is determined to fight on in the courts, but has said if it is proven that the painting is looted art by the Nazis, he will return it.

For further information on this prolonged dispute since 2011, see Dealer’s Estate Sues Nahmad Gallery Seeking Return of Modigliani Portrait and The Art of Secrecy.

As an update to an earlier post featured on the Art Law Blog relating to a dispute between the Gagosian Gallery and Qatar Royal Family’s Agent over the ownership of Pablo Picasso’s plaster “Bust of a Woman” sculpture, it has been reported this week that a settlement was reached between the parties.

Details of the settlement were not disclosed in a filing earlier this week in New York federal court, so it remains a secret as to who now owns the 1931 prized Picasso sculpture of the artist’s then French muse/mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

The sculpture was considered a treasured possession of Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier Picasso, who was born from the artist’s affair with Walter.

As blog readers may recall, prominent New York art gallery owner Larry Gagosian claimed that he had agreed to purchase the sculpture for $106 million in 2015 to resell it to a then undisclosed New York art collector who has since been identified as New York billionaire Leon Black.  However, an agent for the Qatar Royal Family claimed that they had already consummated a deal in 2014 to purchase the sculpture for 38 million euros (about $47.4 million at time of sale) from Widmaier Picasso through a transaction that was negotiated by her son.

Both sides had filed lawsuits earlier this year in New York federal court in Manhattan.  In a three-paragraph order that had issued on Monday, the U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled:  “It having been reported to this court that these actions have been or will be settled, these actions are discontinued without costs to any party.”  Pursuant to the order, either party can request the court to reopen the dispute within 30 days.

The cases are Gagosian Gallery Inc. v. Pelham Europe Ltd., and Pelham Europe Ltd. v. Gagosian, 16-cv-00214 U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Richard Prince continues to push the boundaries of copyright law, if not the art world.

In 2014 he exhibited dozens of inkjet prints on canvas–Instagram posts that the artist had commented on, then enlarged and printed out on canvas–at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City. Collector Daily‘s review lauded his appropriations, declaring that they break down “our new way of communicating” and rebuild it into a vehicle for social satire: “While we may think that the images we post online are ‘secure’ or ‘ours’ in some manner, his pictures quickly undermine that outdated fantasy.”

Others disagree. The photographer of one of the images quickly registered his copyright, complained and recently sued.

What do you think? Were Richard Prince’ s changes transformative and so a fair use? The changes were:

  • A comment on the Instagram feed featuring the photograph: “Canal Zinian de lam jam (emoji)”.
  • Cropping of the bottom and top portions of the photograph and adding elements of the Instagram graphic user interface (this happens automatically by using a cell phone screen print feature).
  • Enlarging the screen print and printing it on to a different medium (canvas).

(images are here)

Does your answer change if you review the Second Circuit’s 2013 decision finding that 25 out of 30 of his works qualified as non-infringing fair use? (Richard Prince argues “This lawsuit reflects an attempt to essentially re-litigate Cariou and should be dismissed with prejudice.”)

Tattoo artists recently demanded more than $1.1M for infringing their copyrights.  Not from the tattoo-ees, basketball stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and others, but from the distributor of video games incorporating their inked avatars. The tattoos were “completed/published” in 2000-2006. The tattoo artists licensed them to the plaintiff in 2012. And, as is often the case, the copyrights were registered in 2015, just before the lawsuit was filed.

(See also Fox Rothschild’s earlier post on our Sports Law Scoreboard blog)

In recent art world news this week, Spain’s National Court has ruled that Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, alleged partner of Glafira Rosales in her sale of a number of counterfeit paintings through the former Knoedler Gallery (“Knoedler”), can be extradited from Spain to the United States.  This means that various charges, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and money laundering, can be brought against Diaz in New York for assisting former art dealer Rosales in selling dozens of fake paintings through Knoedler over a 15 year period.

As set forth in a related blog post below, Rosales allegedly had a reputation for selling paintings by famous Abstract Expressionist artists, including Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, but in fact the paintings were actually forgeries made in Queens, New York, by Pei-Shen Qian, who has since fled to China amidst various charges of conspiracy, fraud and making false statements.

According to a grand jury indictment filed in March 2014, Diaz, his brother Jose (an alleged co-conspirator who had asked to be tried in Spain, as reported by the AP), and Rosales had taken in more than $33 million from the scheme.  The Diaz brothers were arrested in Seville, Spain in April 2014.

Since the closing of its operations in 2011, Knoedler has entered into settlements with a number of art collectors who had purchased fake paintings from the former gallery.  Last week, Domenico and Eleanore De Sole, the first art collectors who went to trial over the purchase of a fake Mark Rothko from Knoedler for $8.3 million in 2004, settled with both the gallery (including its parent company, 8-31 Holdings), and its former director, Ann Freedman, for an undisclosed amount after nearly three weeks of damaging testimony that focused on the fake painting. 

As observed in our recent blog post below, the Knoedler litigation places a spot light on the issue of caveat emptor/buyer beware and when there can be reasonable reliance on a dealer’s purported expertise and his or her representations regarding the authentication of a work.