US government claims custody of disputed Picasso

CBC 27 October 2004

LOS ANGELES - The U.S. federal government has claimed custody of a disputed Picasso painting worth $10 million US.

The move is a legal manoeuvre that allows a federal court in Los Angeles to deliver a ruling in a case that pits the person who claims to own the painting against a man whose grandmother owned it before the Second World War.

The 1922 oil painting, known as Femme en blanc, is currently in the safe of Chicago art collector Marilynn Alsdorf.

FBI agents and U.S. marshals served her with an order last week that bars her from moving the work of art until the question of its ownership is settled.

Alsdorf and her late husband purchased the painting from a New York gallery in 1975 for $375,000.

In 2002, after it had been put up for sale at a gallery in California, Alsdorf removed the painting to Illinois. That was shortly after Thomas Bennigson, an Oakland man, filed a lawsuit claiming he is the rightful owner.

The government says it has the right to seize the painting now because it is illegal to knowingly transport stolen goods across state lines.

Bennigson is the grandson and heir of Carlota Landsberg, a Jewish woman who bought the painting before she fled Berlin to escape the Nazis in the 1940s. She sent it to an art dealership in Paris for safekeeping, where it was plundered.

According to the government, Alsdorf and her husband were informed of the painting's past after they sent it to Los Angeles in an attempt to sell it.
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