Art Case Alleges WW II-Era Double-Cross

Courthouse News Service 30 January 2013
By Adam Klasfeld

MANHATTAN (CN) - The daughter of art critic Paul Westheim claims in court that owners of a Manhattan gallery benefited from a deception involving German Expressionist works that her father left in Berlin, fleeing Nazi persecution.

Westheim's daughter, Margit Frenk, seeks the return of at least four paintings and $3.6 million for a fifth one she says the gallery sold. The paintings include a Paul Klee watercolor and Max Pechstein's "Portrait of Paul Westheim."

Frenk, of Mexico City, sued the Yris Rabenou Gallery; its owner, Yris Rabenou Solomon; her husband, David Solomon; and their sons, Darius and Teimour Solomon, in New York County Supreme Court.

Yris Rabenou Solomon is executrix of the estate of Charlotte Weidler, an art dealer and former friend of Westheim's in Berlin, according to the complaint.

Westheim, an early proponent of German expressionism, published two influential art journals, "Das Kunstblatt" (The Art Page) and "Die Schaffenden" (The Creator), and collected more than 3,000 works by Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Dix, Otto Muller, Max Pechstein and others.

His nontraditional aesthetics and Jewish heritage made him a target of persecution as the Nazis rose to power.

Before fleeing to France, Westheim gave his collection to Weidler in 1935 for safekeeping until he could return, his daughter says in the complaint. The Nazis continued to pursue him in occupied Paris, until he escaped to Mexico.

"After the conclusion of World War II, Weidler had led Westheim to believe that his art collection had been lost or destroyed during the war, and she broke off communications with him," the complaint states.

"Following the war, Weidler shipped artworks from the Westheim Collection that had in fact survived the war to New York and fraudulently concealed them from Westheim. After Westheim's death in 1963, Weidler began to sell artworks from the Westheim Collections."

The Solomons sold one of those paintings, Erich Heckel's "The Violinist," at a Christie's auction for $993,000 in 1998, Frenk says.

She claims its current value is more than $3.6 million.

Four of the paintings that Weidler did not sell are still in the Yris Rabenou Gallery's custody, including Max Pechstein's "Portrait of Paul Westheim," Otto Mueller's "Bathers," Edgar Jene's "Plastische Imagination" and a watercolor by Paul Klee, according to the complaint.

When Weidler died in 1983, Weidler bequeathed the Westheim works to Yris Rabenou Solomon and David Solomon, whose children Darius and Teimour are their sole heirs, according to the complaint.

Frenk claims that the Solomons admitted in August 2010 that they had the Westheim Collection.

Frenk seeks judgment that she is the rightful owner of her father's collection, immediate possession of the works, and $3.6 million for "The Violin."

She is represented by Andrew Krinsky and Debra Bernstein, with Tarter Krinsky & Drogan.
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