Two New York museums are fighting to keep artwork that may have been sold under duress during the Holocaust.
The Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation filed a lawsuit Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan asking the court to declare them the owners of two Picasso paintings that German scholar Julius Schoeps claims were owned by his great-uncle, Paul von Mendelssohn-Barthodly, a descendant of composer Felix Mendelssohn.
Schoeps demanded through his lawyers on Nov. 1 that the museums return “Boy Leading a Horse” (1906), donated to MoMA in 1964 , and “Le Moulin de la Galette” (1900), given to the Guggenheim in 1963 by Jewish art dealer Justin Thannhauser.
Schoeps claims that Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sold the two paintings, as well as other valuable artwork that included three other Picassos, to Thannhauser because he expected the Nazis to confiscate his estate.
The two museums claim that their extensive research shows the paintings were not sold under duress.
Schoeps filed the same claim a one month ago, but it was dismissed by a New York state judge who declared that Schoeps was not the legal heir to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. He also filed a federal lawsuit a year ago to stop another Picasso work from being auctioned off by Christie’s.
Schoeps is the director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies at the University of Potsdam in Germany.