Picassos Stay in New York Heirs of Jewish Banker Settle with MoMA, Guggenheim

The heirs of a Jewish banker have reached an out-of-court settlement with two museums over a pair of Picasso paintings which they claimed the Nazis forced their ancestor to sell against his will. The valuable paintings will now stay in New York.

Two valuable Picasso paintings will stay in New York after the heirs of their former owner reached an out-of-court settlement with the museums which are in possession of the pictures.

The heirs of the Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy reached a compromise with the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum on Monday, shortly before the case went to court. The details of the agreement were not made public.

Potsdam-based historian Julius Schoeps, who is Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's great-nephew and was representing the heirs, claimed that the Berlin-based banker was forced by the Nazis to sell the artworks in the 1930s , a claim the museums have denied. The two paintings, "Boy Leading a Horse" (1906) and "Le Moulin de la Galette" (1900), were held by MoMA and the Guggenheim respectively and are each estimated to be worth about $200 million.

So-called "looted art"  has become a big issue in recent years. Several museums have been forced to return artworks which were stolen or forcibly obtained from their Jewish owners by the Nazis.

There are still a number of cases outstanding. Just this weekend, Munich Mayor Christian Ude said that the city would not allow the return of a painting by Paul Klee to the woman who claims to be the rightful owner.

The painting, called "Sumpflegende" ("Swamp Legend") hangs in the Lehnbachhaus museum, but it is claimed by the anscestors of Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, who loaned it to a museum in Hanover in 1926. It was confiscated by the Nazis in 1937 as an example of "Degenerate Art," and was then sold in 1941. It changed hands a number of times before it ended up in Munich in 1982.

Munich claims that it bought the painting in good faith. Lawyers for the Lissitzky-Küppers family say, however, that the 1998 Washington Principles -- an agreement on the restitution of Nazi looted art signed by 44 countries including Germany and the US -- provide for the return of the painting. The family's lawyer Christoph von Berg said over the weekend that he will pursue the case in US courts.

dgs -- with wire reports
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