Laurel Zuckerman—the great-grand-niece of Paul Friedrich Leffmann, who once owned the painting The Actor
(1904)––sued the museum in 2016, seeking the painting’s return or $100 million, the work’s estimated value. Zuckerman’s suit asserted Leffmann, a Jewish art dealer and collector, sold the painting under duress as he attempted to flee Nazi forces. In 1937, Leffman left Germany for Italy, one of the few states accepting Jews at the time. But just one year later, as the country’s fascist government intensified its persecution of Jews, Leffmann decided to sell The Actor
to a French collector for $13,200 to raise funds to travel to Switzerland. In her suit, Zuckerman argued that this persecution forced Leffman to enter into a disadvantageous sale, noting the price was below the $18,000 the work was insured for when loaned to the Museum of Modern Art
in 1939, and less than the $22,500 it sold for in 1941. The work was subsequently donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
. While expressing sympathy with Leffmann’s persecution, Judge Loretta A. Preska dismissed the case, ruling that the transaction had, “occurred between private individuals, not at the command of the Fascist or Nazi governments,” the Art Newspaper
reported. She ruled that because Leffmann sold the work due to the political circumstances in Italy, rather than being coerced through a concrete and specific threat, the transaction was legal. The Met welcomed the court’s ruling. Zuckerman’s attorney said they plan to appeal.