London’s National Gallery Threatened With Lawsuit Over Matisse Painting

Henri Matisse’s Portrait of Greta Moll, 1908, is currently at the heart of a heated debate between the descendants of the portrait’s subject, and the current owners of the painting: London’s National Gallery. Moll’s descendants have now threatened the National Gallery with legal action after the museum rejected a return request filed by the family’s attorney.

The painting was bought by the museum in 1979, two years after Greta Moll’s death, but Moll’s family insists that the work was stolen and sold without permission by a family friend who took it to Switzerland shortly after the war for safekeeping. The National Gallery denies any wrong on its part, arguing that a theft of the painting has never been proven, and that even if it was, the institution would still be under no obligation to return the work. According to a museum spokesman, “The gallery is in fact prohibited from making transfers of paintings in its collection…the gallery remains—by virtue of the purchase in 1979—the legal owner of the painting which it holds for the nation.”

The painting was commissioned by Oskar Moll, the husband of Greta Moll, in 1908 after the couple befriended Matisse in Paris.