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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Judge Rules Nazi Picasso can be Sold Tonight

Nazi Picasso Can Be Sold Tonight !

NEW YORK (AP) - A judge ruled Tuesday that a Picasso painting can be sold at auction, despite a claim that its former owner was forced by the Nazis to sell it in the 1930s because his family descended from Jews.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff issued the order four days after Julius H. Schoeps, an heir to Berlin banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, filed a lawsuit in Manhattan to stop the sale.

The judge had temporarily blocked the auction of ``Portrait de Angel Fernandez de Soto.'' The painting, expected to fetch up to $60 million, is scheduled to be sold at Christie's on Wednesday.

The painting of de Soto, who shared a studio with Pablo Picasso, is being sold by the Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation, a London-based charity.

In the lawsuit, Schoeps sought to be declared the lawful owner. A lawyer for Schoeps said outside court Tuesday that he would refile the case in state court on Wednesday.

The oil-on-canvas painting, signed and dated 1903, was described in a Christie's catalog as capturing de Soto's haunting face: ``The elegantly dressed sitter appears to scrutinize the viewer with an intense gaze, his inner agitation suggested by the forceful brushstrokes and the cloud of smoke hovering above him.''

In a statement Tuesday, the foundation dismissed Schoeps' lawsuit as ``utterly spurious without legal or factual substance.'' It said the painting was purchased at a Sotheby's auction in 1995 and exhibited on many occasions since. The foundation said the painting's provenance was never questioned during that 11-year period until now.

Christie's said the painting was being sold by the foundation for income to be spent on a variety of charitable purposes. In a statement issued Tuesday, it called the lawsuit a ``disservice to the restitution community and the restitution process that has been created to serve those with authentic interests in stolen and plundered art.''

The lawsuit said Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was subjected to Nazi intimidation that forced him to flee his mansion and begin selling prized paintings in a depressed art market. He placed five Picassos, including the de Soto painting, on consignment with Berlin art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser in 1934, the lawsuit said. According to the lawsuit, Thannhauser sold the painting in 1936 to M. Knoedler & Co. in New York.

Mendelssohn-Bartholdy died in 1935. The family included composer Felix Mendelssohn, whose father converted to Christianity.

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber calls Picasso claim "utterly spurious"

LONDON (Reuters) - Theater impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber's art charity has dismissed as "utterly spurious" last-minute legal action that threatens the sale of a Picasso portrait worth up to $60 million.

The picture was due to be auctioned by Christie's in New York on Wednesday, but a U.S. judge temporarily halted the sale of the 1903 painting after German Julius Schoeps sued Lloyd Webber's foundation and laid claim to the picture.

A spokesman for the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation said on Tuesday that the claim was "utterly spurious (and) without legal or factual substance." The foundation was not made aware of the lawsuit until Monday morning.

"The Picasso is not owned by a private individual. It is owned by a charity whose principal objectives are to advance the education of the public in the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the arts," he added.

The foundation plans to use the proceeds of the sale for "charitable objectives." It bought the picture "in good faith" in 1995 for $29 million and has exhibited it publicly in Britain and the United States.

"During the 11 years the charity has owned the picture no one has previously raised any questions about the ownership."

The painting from Picasso's Blue Period, "Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto," has been valued between $40 million and $60 million by Christie's.

Court documents show Schoeps said he was an heir of a Jewish banker from Berlin who was forced to sell the painting in 1934 as a "consequence of Nazi persecution."

Lloyd Webber's foundation said the painting was first sold by Paul von Mendelssohn-Batholdy in Berlin on August 31st, 1935.

It was subsequently owned by four other owners before its sale in May, 1995.

It is one of the star lots of Christie's impressionist and modern art sale, which is poised to set a record for the largest ever one-evening take.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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