Back in February 2011 we reported that the disgraced international art dealer Helly Nahmad was in possession of a $20m painting by Amedeo Modigliani, Seated Man with a Cane (1918) that had allegedly been stolen by the Nazis from Oscar Stettiner, a prominent Paris gallerist. In 1939. Stettiner escaped Paris leaving the painting behind. The work was confiscated by Marcel Philippon, who was appointed by the Nazis to sell the Stettiner property.
The Nahmad family is now being sued by relatives of the descendants of Oscar Stettiner the original owner of the masterpiece. Helly Nahmad who is currently serving a prison sentence of 366 days as punishment for his involvement in a Russian mob linked, high-stakes gambling ring was, needless to say, unavailable for comment. He was arrested in 2013 as part of an inquiry into illegal gaming promoted as private parties for high net worth individuals including film stars, professional athletes and bank bosses.
Lawyers for the Nahmad family have stated that they never owned “Seated Man with a Cane” by Modigliani. The billionaire New York art dealing family’s head David Nahmad recorded in court papers stating the painting was owned by the International Art Center (IAC) and that the “Helly Nahmad Gallery have never owned the painting. However lawyers for Philippe Maestracci, are claiming Modigliani’s Seated Man with a Cane, is owned by an offshore company used by the Nahmads as a cover for their interests in works of art, most of which are kept in an art storage facility, in tax free Geneva.
It has been reported that the Nahmads purchased the work at Christie’s, London, in June 1996 for $3.2m. The painting has been publicly displayed at museums and galleries around the world. A Christie’s catalogue states as provenance that the masterpiece belonged to Roger Dutilleul a Paris collector who sold it to J. Livengood, in Paris, around 1940 to 1945, however holes in the provenance have now appeared, including the exhibiting of the picture at the Venice Biennial in the 1930. In November 2008, the work was consigned by the Nahmads to Sotheby’s, where it was went unsold in a high profile sale. Sotheby’s raised the possibility that the work was stolen by the Nazis at which time the Nahmads allegedly moved the painting to Switzerland. Richard Golub, the Nahmads’ lawyer, called these claims “totally false”.
Left Seated Man with a Cane (1918) Center photo: Helly Nahmad (Courtesy Patrick McMullan) Right Amedeo Modigliani