Descendants of Jewish Refugees Fleeing the Nazis Sue the Guggenheim for $200 Million Picasso Painting

The heirs of a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution are demanding the return of a Pablo Picasso painting they once owned that is now in the possession of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which the family says is worth up to $200 million today.

Grandchildren of Carl Adler and Rosie Jacoby, supported by several Jewish charities, lawsuit Guggenheim in Manhattan Superior Court on January 20, seeking the return of Picasso’s “Woman Ironing,” a 1904 work from the artist’s Blue Period, and recovery of the painting’s estimated current value of $100-200 million.

In the lawsuit, the couple’s grandson, Thomas Bennigson, said the couple were forced to sell the masterpiece at a great loss while frantically trying to escape Nazi persecution in their native Germany in 1938, an experience common to many Jewish families. whose The Germans plundered art.

“Adler was forced to sell the painting for far less than its actual value,” the suit says. “Adler would not have disposed of the painting at the time and price that he did, but for the sake of the Nazi persecution to which he and his family were and continue to be subjected.”

At the beginning of the 20th century, Adler was chairman of Adler & Oppenheimer AG, one of Europe’s leading leather manufacturers, and the family lived a prosperous lifestyle. In 1916, Adler purchased “Woman Ironing” from Heinrich Thannhauser, owner of the Munich gallery.

That all changed when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and quickly began mass antisemitic persecution, looting their businesses, driving them into overcrowded ghettos and eventually killing 6 million Jews.

After the Nazis promulgate the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, Adler is forced to give up his leather-making position, and with Jews stripped of citizenship and brutal antisemitic violence, the family begins planning how to escape Germany. This was complicated by Germany’s devastating “flight tax” on immigrant assets, “a powerful tool to strip Jews of their assets” according to Bennigson.

The family fled Germany in June 1938, traveling through the Netherlands, France and Switzerland as they sought permanent emigration to Argentina. The Adlers, in a short time, needed funds to obtain a visa and emigrate to South America, but were faced with the dilemma of having to declare that their money had been transferred out of Germany, and being subject to airline taxes.

The Ironing Woman, Picasso’s masterpiece of the Blue Period, has hung in the Guggenheim since 1978.Photo by David Buzarecki

And so, in October, Adler sold Woman Ironing to Thannhauser’s son, Justin, for $1,552, about $33,000 in 2022. That’s “well below market value and less than a ninth of his asking price in 1932,” According to the suit.

“Thanhauser, as Picasso’s leading art dealer, must have known that he had acquired the painting at a discount,” the lawsuit says. “At the time of the sale, Tannhauser was buying similar masterpieces from other German Jews who had fled Germany and profited from their misfortune. Tannhauser was well aware of the plight of Adler and his family, and that, in the absence of Nazi persecution, Adler would never have sold the painting when he made the price.”

The Adlers finally boarded a ship for Buenos Aires in April 1940; In the end, the Nazis plundered all of Adler’s remaining assets. Jacobi died in 1946 and Adler in 1957. They were survived by their three children: Carlotta, Eric and Juan Jorge.

With the assets of Adler and the other Jews violently stripped, Thanhauser quickly sought to invert the painting while concealing the shady source of its acquisition. In 1939, he lent the masterpiece to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and later New York’s Museum of Modern Art; The DMA insured the painting for $25,000, sixteen times what Thanhauser paid Adler for it. In 1963, Thanhauser agreed to bequeath the painting to the Guggenheim upon his death; The Guggenheim has owned the business since 1978.

The family learned that they may have owned the artwork in 2014, and in 2017 their lawyers contacted the Guggenheim office; In 2021, they demanded that it be returned home, citing the Holocaust Art Recovery Act passed by Congress in 2016. The Guggenheim refused to honor the request, Bennigson says, and it remains in the possession of the Upper East Side Museum.

In a statement, Guggenheim said the family’s allegations were “unfounded.”

“The Guggenheim takes matters of provenance and claims for retrieval very seriously,” said Sarah Fox, the museum’s director of communications. “Guggenheim has conducted extensive research and detailed inquiry in response to this allegation, has entered into dialogue with claimants’ counsel over several years, and believes the allegation is without merit.”

The museum seeks to distinguish the painting from other artworks stolen by the Nazis, stating instead that “Woman Ironing” was sold to a gallery owner already known to Adler, and Thanhauser himself faced punishment from the Nazis as they attempted to eradicate “degenerate avant-garde art.”

The Guggenheim honchos reached out to the Adlers’ son Eric, who was living in New York, in the 1970s to interview him about the provenance of the painting, and he said he didn’t raise any concerns at the time. “Woman Ironing” has been on public display at the Guggenheim ever since.

It is unclear on what basis the Claimants — more than 80 years after the sale of Adler to Woman Ironing — appear to have reached a view of the fairness of the transaction that neither Carl Adler nor his immediate descendants ever expressed, even when Fox said: “Contact Guggenheim contacted the family directly to ask them to do so.” “The facts show that Carl Adler’s sale of Justin Thanhauser was a fair transaction between the parties of a long and continuing relationship.”

The looting of art by the Nazis worth billions of dollars Today. After World War II, the US government estimated that the Nazis stole 20% of all art in Europe is incredible; Much of this art has yet to be returned to its rightful owners.

Last year, New York State pCertified by law requires All museums must prominently acknowledge whether the art on display has been “altered by theft, appropriation, confiscation, forced sale, or other involuntary means” as a result of Nazi persecution. It was Guggenheim and Moma The Nazis are allowed to preserve art that was acquired by the Nazis After settling in 2009 with Julius Schoeps, whose great uncle had to sell Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse and Le Moulin de la Galette.

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