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Thursday, March 8, 2012

WE DON’T OWN THAT MODIGLIANI


We don’t own that Modigliani
Nahmads say the contested painting, Seated Man with a Cane, 1918, belongs to another organization

By Gareth Harris. News, Issue 233, March 2012
Published online: 29 February 2012

The news that the billionaire New York art dealers David Nahmad and his son Helly were being sued for the return of a 1918 work by Modigliani allegedly looted by the Nazis made it to the British and American tabloid press in November. Now, in a legal twist, lawyers acting on behalf of the Nahmad family say that the case is unfounded because the Manhattan-based Helly Nahmad Gallery does not own the work.

In court papers, the Nahmads’ legal team says instead that an organisation called the International Art Center (IAC) possesses the piece and that “Helly Nahmad Gallery never owned the painting [which] is not in New York State… the plaintiff has sued the wrong defendant.” But lawyers for Philippe Maestracci, who is claiming Modigliani’s Seated Man with a Cane, contend that the “International Art Center is an offshore entity used by the Nahmad defendants as an instrumentality to hold their interests in works, around 90% of which are held in an art storage facility at the free port of Geneva.” They add that the art centre’s holdings are estimated at between $3bn and $4bn.

Maestracci says that the Modigliani was owned by his grandfather, Oscar Stettiner, who ran a gallery in Paris. In 1939, Stettiner fled Paris without the work; in July 1944, Marcel Philippon, who was appointed by the Nazis to sell Stettiner’s property, sold the painting. Maestracci says that he made repeated requests to the Nahmad gallery to return the piece, but received no reply.

The Nahmads bought the work at Christie’s, London, in June 1996 for $3.2m, according to the online publication Artnet. However, the court papers state: “The International Art Center purchased the painting… the painting has been openly and publicly exhibited at various museums and galleries throughout the world since 1996, when the IAC acquired ownership.” Christie’s catalogue entry states that it had previously belonged to the Paris collector Roger Dutilleul and was later sold to J. Livengood, also in Paris, around 1940 to 1945. The provenance did not indicate spoliation.


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