Sotheby's Sued over Picasso

Bloomberg 4 July 2003

Sotheby's Holdings, Inc. is being sued by a Swedish art collector who is demanding it return his Picasso painting. The auction house is keeping the painting because it claims it was confiscated by Nazis during World War II.

Janis Dzedins asked Sotheby's to sell his Picasso, ``Nature Morte au Verre,'' at an Impressionist and Modern Art sale in London in February, according to documents filed at the High Court in London by Dzedin's lawyers on June 5. Sotheby's refused to put the painting on sale after it determined that it had belonged to Alphonse Kann, a Jewish art dealer based in Paris whose collection of more than 2,200 artworks was seized by the Nazis during World War II, the auction house said in an e-mailed statement.

``In light of the conflicting claims of ownership, Sotheby's is not in a position to make a conclusive determination as to who has title to the painting,'' Sotheby's said in the statement.

In the past decade, museums and art dealers have examined collections to identify pieces looted by the Nazis. In 2000, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. returned a 17th century still life by Flemish artist Frans Snyders to the family of art collector Edgar Stern. It had been seized in Paris in 1941 by Hermann Goering, Commander-in-Chief of the Nazi Luftwaffe, the National Gallery's Web site said. It later turned up in the collection of Karl Haberstock, a Nazi art dealer.


Dzedins is seeking damages from Sotheby's, as well as the return of the painting. The auction house has told the collector it will keep the painting ``whilst this matter develops'', as it may be liable for penalties under French criminal law if it returns it. Sotheby's said in its statement that it plans to ask the court to rule on the ownership of the painting. Dzedins bought the Picasso for 418,000 pounds ($698,000) from Christies International Plc on April 3 1989, his court documents said. Christie's catalogue for the sale said the painting had been owned by Kann, according to the documents. A date hasn't been set for the court hearing. Dzedins' lawyer, Adrian Parkhouse, didn't immediately return phone calls after voicemail messages were left for him.
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