Statement Regarding Claim for Piet Mondrian Painting Schilderij No. 1

Kaye Spiegler 13 December 2021

Kaye Spiegler PLLC recently filed a claim on behalf of their clients, the Trustees of the Elizabeth McManus Holtzman Irrevocable Trust, to recover an important work by Piet Mondrian in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and issued this statement on 13 December 2021.

The Trustees of The Elizabeth McManus Holtzman Irrevocable Trust filed a Complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on December 10, 2021, seeking recovery of a painting, Schilderij No. 1, 60 x 60 cm, 1926 (“B173”), by the renowned Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. The Complaint alleges that the painting is estimated to be worth more than $100 million and is in the possession of the Defendant, Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Trust holds the remainder of the estate of the Trustees’ deceased father, Harry Holtzman, who was Mondrian’s sole heir.

According to the Complaint, Mondrian, regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, created the painting in 1926 and shortly thereafter consigned it to Sophie Küppers, a prominent art dealer to whom Mondrian consigned many works, for sale. In 1927, the consignee entrusted the painting to the director of a museum in Hanover, Germany before she left for Russia.

In 1933, the Nazi regime was established in Germany, and pursuant to its program designed to purge Germany of so-called “degenerate art”, i.e., more than 20,000 modern artworks were seized from German public museums, including the painting. Mondrian, also designated as “degenerate” and targeted by the Nazi regime, fled to London in 1938.

As the Complaint further alleges, at the time Mondrian was living in exile in London, the Nazis transferred possession of the painting to Karl Buchholz, one of Hitler’s art dealers appointed to sell “degenerate” art. Buchholz sent the painting to his New York-based business partner Curt Valentin, who, also authorized by the Nazis to sell “degenerate” art, sold it to a collector, Albert E. Gallatin, in 1939.

The Complaint also notes that Mondrian fled Europe under extreme duress and with the help of his sponsor and close friend, Harry Holtzman, emigrated to New York in 1940; Mondrian died shortly thereafter in 1944, unaware that he had any recourse to recover his prized painting. Similarly, Harry Holtzman also died without learning that Mondrian, and thus he, owned the painting.

In 1952, Gallatin bequeathed the painting to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As the Complaint also states, only after research by Monika Tatzkow, a German provenance researcher, and Gunnar Schnabel, a German attorney and researcher, were the Trustees able to learn of their ownership of the painting. While the Trustees attempted to resolve this dispute out of court, the Philadelphia Museum of Art rejected their claim.

Madalena Holtzman, speaking on behalf of the Trustees, stated, “This great work by Mondrian was seized by the Nazis. We are greatly disappointed that we have been compelled to take legal action to enforce our rights.”

The Trustees are represented by Kaye Spiegler PLLC in New York and Tucker Law Group, LLC in Philadelphia, PA. Lawrence M. Kaye of Kaye Spiegler PLLC, who has been litigating Nazi- looted art cases for many decades, added, “In light of the landmark Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the Terezin Declaration adopted by the United States government along with more than 40 other nations, American museums should no longer keep Nazi-looted art in their collections and our firm will make every effort to vindicate the rights of our clients in this case.”

For more information, please contact:

Lawrence M. Kaye
(212) 498-6921


Howard N. Spiegler
(212) 498-6922
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