November 3, 2011

Marc Masurovsky provides perspective on Lawsuit regarding disputed Modigliani painting "Seated Man with Cane'

Modigliani's "Seated
 Man with Cane" (1918)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Most of my art crime news comes to my email box from Ton Cremer's Museum Security Network. As I suspect most of our readers on this blog also subscribe to MSN, I don't often repeat the news, but a particular article today intrigued me and I sent the link over to my mentor on Nazi-looted art restitution, Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP).

Journalist Bill Hoffman of the UK's Daily Mail reported online yesterday that "Billionaire art dealer refuses to return $25m Modigliani masterpiece stolen by Nazis from Jewish art dealer." Hoffman reports that the Nazis sold the 1918 painting, "Seated Man with Cane", at an auction in 1944 and that the grandson of the Parisian Jewish art dealer, Oscar Stettiner, alleges that the painting is at a gallery in New York City.  Hoffman quotes the lawsuit filed in the U. S. District Court of Manhattan that the family was unable to stop the sale during the war and unable to recover it afterward because the painting was then inaccurately labeled.

Masurovsky offers his professional perspective: 
"Due to the paucity of information released to the public, there is potentially conflicting reporting on the story of the allegedly illicit sale of the Stettiner Modigliani in 1944. Artinfo states that Oscar Stettiner placed the painting in the care of Marcel Philippon before he fled to the unoccupied zone of France. If that is so, why would other articles allege that the Nazis appointed him as the administrator of Stettiner's assets? That makes no sense. Vichy was responsible for appointing non-Jewish overseers of Jewish-owned property. Sometimes, it was for liquidation purposes, other times to facilitate the transfer of ownership of those assets to an Aryan. The real question becomes: did Stettiner leave instructions to Philippon to dispose of the property or did Vichy instruct Philippon to do so? I am curious to know why it took 3 years to sell the painting after it had been placed under Philippon's management. Once the full historical docket is released, we can make a more informed decision about who's right and who's wrong in this instance."