The heirs to estate of the former owner of Picasso’s “The Actor” filed a complaint last week alleging that the painting, currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, was sold under duress in the 1930s as its owner at the time, a German Jew, fled the Nazi regime. The complaint alleges that, but for the Nazis’ policies to seize Jewish assets in Germany (including art), the owner never would have sold the painting at such a steep discount. The dealer to whom the painting was sold found an American buyer for the work, who donated it to the Met in 1952.
The original owner and her family fled to Italy, Switzerland, and eventually Brazil, were they were able to stay only after paying a levy to the Brazilian government using the proceeds from the sale of “The Actor.” The complaint alleges that the Met ignored various red flags both at the time of sale and through the intervening years that would have indicated that the work’s true provenance was tainted by the Nazis.
The complaint includes claims for replevin, conversion, and declaratory judgment, seeking immediate delivery of the painting or damages in the alternative of $100 million.
The case is pending before Judge Preska.