Twitter share

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Nazi Picasso Withdrawn at last Minute From New York Auction

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's Art Foundation has withdrawn a Picasso painting worth up to $60 million (32 million pounds) from a planned Christie's auction later on Wednesday amid claims by a German man that he owns the piece.

The Lloyd Webber foundation and Christie's said ownership claims by Julius Schoeps meant a "cloud of doubt has been recklessly placed" on the ownership of the painting from Picasso's Blue Period, "Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto".

Schoeps is suing the Lloyd Webber foundation, saying in a federal complaint that he was an heir of wealthy Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy from Berlin and that the banker lost the painting in Nazi Germany in a "forced sale."

Schoeps claims Mendelssohn-Bartholdy "never sold any works from his private collection until after the Nazis came to power." Then he began selling his works into a depressed market because many Jewish collectors were selling their art.

A U.S. judge on Monday briefly halted the planned auction, but gave the go ahead for the sale on Tuesday and dismissed Schoeps' case, saying the case lacked federal jurisdiction.

But late Wednesday, lawyers for Schoeps filed a civil complaint in Manhattan Supreme Court seeking damages of $60 million from the foundation and the return of the painting.

The foundation said best evidence suggests the painting was sold after Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's death in 1935 by his second wife, who was not Jewish.

"The joint decision (to withdraw the painting) was the result of 11th-hour claims -- claims that Christie's and the Foundation believe to have no merit -- about title to the picture," the foundation and Christie's said in a statement.

The 1903 painting, also known as "The Absinthe Drinker," was valued by Christie's at between $40 million and $60 million. Proceeds from the sale were to go to charity.

Christie's and the foundation have questioned why the suit was filed now considering that the sale of the painting to the foundation in 1995 for $29 million was widely publicised.

"The Foundation reserves the right to seek damages for the harm caused to the portrait and the charity, which rightfully owns it, by the unfounded and spurious claims brought by Julius Schoeps and his attorneys," the foundation said on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Jeanne King)

No comments: