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MoMA and Guggenheim Go to Court over Right to Picassos

In a legal strategy that is spreading in the art world, the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation jointly asked a federal court yesterday to declare them the owners of two Picasso paintings that a claimant says were sold under duress in Nazi Germany, reports Carol Vogel in the New York Times. A request for declaratory judgment, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, involves Boy Leading a Horse, 1906, donated to MoMA in 1964 by William S. Paley, the founder of CBS, and Le Moulin de la Galette (The Windmill at Galette), 1900, given to the Guggenheim in 1963 by the art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser. The museums asked the court to declare that the paintings had never been part of a forced sale and rightfully belong to them. “Both museums feel this claim is without merit,” said Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim. “This is a serious issue, and we want to take the most direct path to confirm it.”

In March, lawyers for Julius H. Schoeps, a great-nephew of the paintings’ original owner, the German Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, told the Guggenheim and MoMA that Mendelssohn-Bartholdy had sold them to Thannhauser under duress. Schoeps requested access to the museums’ information about the works’ provenance, which museum officials provided. In letters dated November 1, Schoeps’s lawyers asked the museums to turn over the paintings. That demand, in addition to Schoeps’s legal history, prompted the Guggenheim and MoMA to go to court.