Met Sued Over Art Nazis Allegedly Stole

New York News Day 21 January 2004
Pete Bowles

A Swiss museum official has filed suit against the Metropolitan Museum of Art, claiming that a painting it recently had on display was stolen by the Nazis from a prominent Jewish family during World War II.

Joram Deutsch, the son of a lawyer who became famous for his skill in helping Jews obtain compensation for the art they lost to the Nazis, said that the masterpiece — El Greco's "Mt. Sinai" — was stolen from the Hatvany family in Budapest, Hungary, in 1944 and had remained missing for decades.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Deutsch asked the court to order that the painting — which he said is about to be shipped to England — be seized and examined to determine its authenticity.

Officials of the Metropolitan Museum did not return calls seeking comment.

Deutsch, vice president of the Deutsch Foundation, a Swiss contemporary art museum, said the painting had been loaned to the Met by the Heraklion Foundation of Greece and was on display until Jan. 12.

Deutsch, in court papers, said he was acting in behalf of his late father — Hans Deutsch — a foremost lawyer in the recovery of millions of dollars of artwork looted by the Nazis.

He said his father died in May 2002, which he said probably prompted the Greek foundation to "believe it was safe to transport the painting out of Greece." He said the foundation bought the painting in a private auction in 1989.

"The painting is so well known that if had ever been displayed publicly during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, it would have been easily spotted and seized," the lawsuit said.

Deutsch said he is unaware of how or under what circumstances the painting was transported to the Met.

Because of its history, he said, "there is a reasonable probability and virtual certainty that if the painting leaves the United States it will never be seen again."
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