A legal tussle over one of the masterworks of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection is not quite over. In February, a U.S. district court judge ruled that The Actor (1904–05), a Rose Period painting by Pablo Picasso that has belonged to the Met since 1952, will remain there despite the ownership claims made by the estate of Alice Leffmann, the wife of the work’s former owner, German-Jewish businessman Paul Freidrich Leffmann, who sold the work for less than market value while fleeing Nazis in Italy.
While works looted by the Nazis have on occasion been returned to their rightful owners, in this case, the judge decided that the transaction “occurred between private individuals, not at the command of the Fascist or Nazi governments” while acknowledging the “economic pressure during the undeniably horrific circumstances of the Nazi and Fascist regimes.” David W. Bowker, an attorney for the Met, argued that, unlike other similar cases, the work “was never in the hands of the Nazis and never sold or transferred in any unlawful way.”
Now the family is appealing, hoping to make the case that the transaction came about directly due to economic pressure put on them by the Nazis, a situation akin to the regime forcing them to part with the Picasso. “You either sell or face an unspeakable fate,” the estate said in the appeal, filed in federal court in New York, and called the sale a “desperate act of survival during the most horrific of circumstances.” The estate also hopes to benefit from the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, which was passed in December 2016 and which extends the time limit for claims on Nazi-era art cases. The new suit claims the court did not take HEAR into consideration.
The Met said that it will oppose the appeal and stands by its ownership.