The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is in the process of being sued over ownership of Pablo Picasso’s painting “The Actor” by the estate of Paul Leffmann, a German-Jewish businessman who fled Nazi Germany in 1938. The case was filed last Friday. The 1904-5 Rouge Period painting shows a theatrical man gesturing with his hands. The Met’s curators describe it as a “simple yet haunting” work that marked the beginning of Picasso’s interest in “the theatrical world of acrobats and saltimbanques (acrobats).”
The Met argues that Leffamann actually received for his Picasso more “than any other early Picasso sold by a collector to a dealer during the 1930s.”
According to the suit, Leffmann sold the painting under duress for $13,200, when he and his wife were in Paris, to pay for their escape to Brazil. The painting was sold to art dealer Hugo Perls and Picasso’s dealer Paul Rosenberg. The painting was then purchased for $22,500 in 1941, by Thelma Chrysler Foy, daughter of a founder of the Chrysler Corporation, Walter Chrysler. In 1952, she donated the picture to the Met.
The suit argues that the Met should have known that the original owner was forced to part with the painting, today estimated at $100 million, because he was the victim of “Nazi and Fascist persecution,” according to The Art Newspaper.
The Met argues that Leffamann actually received for his Picasso more “than any other early Picasso sold by a collector to a dealer during the 1930s.” They bring as proof the fact that when the Leffmanns, after the war, were trying to recover their stolen property, they did not include The Actor on their list. If the Leffmanns themselves did not consider the painting stolen, why should the Museum be accused of holding improperly acquired property?
The litigation was begun by Leffmann’s great-grandniece, who presumably discovered her family’s connection to the Met’s Picasso about ten years ago.