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Henri Matisse. Photo: Henrimatisse.net

Family of Henri Matisse Wins Legal Battle over Artist’s Cutouts

The Versailles Court of Appeals has ruled that a Parisian dealer Jérôme Le Blay must return two cutouts by Henri Matisse, worth $4.5 million, to the artist’s heirs, Vincent Noce of the Art Newspaper reports.

The family of Matisse’s youngest son, the New York gallerist Pierre Matisse, filed a lawsuit against an unnamed party for fraud and the detention of stolen goods in January 2009, after learning that the artist’s White Palm on Red and Green Snail on Blue were to be sold at an Impressionist and Modern sale at Sotheby’s in New York. The works are among hundreds that were allegedly taken from storage at the art-supply company Lefebvre-Foinet sometime after they were deposited there in 1972.

The auction house had attempted to uncover more detailed provenance information for both works. It consulted Matisse expert Wanda de Guebriant, who refused to authenticate the cutouts due to suspicions regarding Le Blay’s claim that they were acquired from a friend of Josette Lefebvre, the heiress of the Lefebvre fortune, in the 1960s. According to de Guebriant, the pieces were most likely still at Pierre’s Nice apartment during this time.

After Georges Matisse, the artist’s great-grandson, wrote a letter to Sotheby’s informing it that the sellers were not the rightful owners of the works, the auction house pulled them from the sale. Rozven, a Hong Kong–based company representing the seller, then sued Georges. However, the case was dismissed in 2010. The most recent judgment called Rozven “a cover” mounted by Le Blay in order to mask the origins of the pieces.

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