Amedeo Modigliani, Seated Man with a Cane, 1918.

New York Judge Gives Modigliani Lawsuit a Green Light

The Nahmad family is once again battling over Amedeo Modigliani’s Seated Man with a Cane, 1918, worth an estimated $25 million. A New York appellate court ruled on November 2 that Phillip Maestracci—the grandson of Parisian art dealer Oscar Stettiner—can proceed with his 2015 lawsuit to reclaim the work, which was ostensibly taken from his grandfather by the Nazis.

Maestracci first sued dealer Helly Nahmad and his Manhattan gallery over the painting in 2011. Maestracci initially withdrew his lawsuit after the Nahmads informed him that the painting was actually owned by the International Art Center, in Panama.

In 2014, Maestracci filed a second complaint in state court and named both the International Art Center and David Nahmad, Helly’s father, as defendants, but it was dismissed by a lower court after Maestracci couldn’t prove he was the representative of Stettiner’s estate. The controversy was revived when the Panama Papers were leaked in 2016, revealing that the Nahmads have owned the International Art Center since 1995.

According to the Nahmad family, Maestracci’s lawsuit is not valid since the statute of limitations in France and Switzerland, where the painting is being stored, has expired. Citing the recently enacted Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, the appellate court disagreed. The new law states that the statute of limitations to recover Nazi-looted works is six years from the date the plaintiff discovers the whereabouts of the work in question, and Maestracci is within the deadline.