MANHATTAN (CN) - George Grosz's son and daughter in law have sued the Museum of Modern Art, demanding return of three paintings - including "Republican Automatons" - which MOMA allegedly acquired after the Nazis drove Grosz from Germany and looted his works from his Jewish art dealer. "Grosz' work typified the 'degenerate art Hitler hated, [and] when Hitler came to power, Grosz was the first artist to be declared an 'enemy of the state,'" according to the federal complaint.
Martin and Lilian Grosz say MOMA acquired the paintings from sellers it knew or should have known were involved in the looting and document laundering.
The three paintings at issue are "Portrait of the Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse," "Self-Portrait with Model," and "Republican Automatons."
According to the complaint: "A woman named Charlotte Weidler claimed that she 'inherited' 'Portrait of the Poet' in 1937 from Grosz' art dealer Alfred Flechtheim's estate. This claim is and was demonstrably false. MOMA claims title through Weidler and a dubious subsequent transaction with Curt Valentin, a Nazi agent and art dealer notorious for peddling artworks looted by the Nazis."
The complaint continues: "After Grosz' art dealer, Alfred Flechtheim, died from blood poisoning, a Dutch art dealer named can Lier quickly grabbed Flechtheim's inventory and 'auctioned' it to himself. Van Lier never contacted Grosz, the owner of the artwork, before engaging in this void transaction. MOMA relies on this sham Dutch auction as the excuse for wrongfully retaining possession of 'Self Portrait with Model.'
The Dutch art market historically lacked any moral compass. When the Nazis came to power, they immediately snatched up artworks in Holland by Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. Sham Nazi transactions 'laundering' stolen art were centered in Holland. Eventually, Kajetan Muhlmann, 'arguably the single most prodigious art plundered in the history of human civilization,' based Nazi operations in Holland to oversee laundering of title to artwork looted throughout the Reich. (Petropoulos, Jonathan: 'The Faustian Bargain, Oxford University Press, 1999, at 170-204.)"
"Republican Automatons" "followed the 'Dutch Auction' fate of 'Self-Portrait with Model,'" according to the complaint. "Van Lier sold it to Brandt, together with three other watercolors and one drawing, for a combined total of 25 Dutch guilders. ...
(T)he paintings have been 'hiding in plain sight,' their provenance and true ownership obscured by a combination of sham transactions, multilayered deceptions, archives sealed for decades and publications of misleading provenances that have until recently made it impossible for the heirs to determine that title to these paintings never left Grosz. ... MOMA knew or should have know this, but chose to either actively conceal the evidence or look the other way and deal under suspicious circumstances with disreputable dealers who provided doctored or missing provenances. ... This lawsuit was precipitated by MOMA's absolute refusal to toll the statute of limitations to permit additional research, negotiations, or non-contentious discussions, as well as MOMA's refusal to turn over all relevant documents."
The Groszes are represented by Raymond Dowd with Dunnington Bartholow & Miller.