Apr 23, 2018

A judge handed the Nahmads a significant defeat in an ongoing lawsuit seeking the restitution of a Nazi-looted Modigliani work linked to art-dealing family.

New York state judge Eileen Bransten refused to dismissed the case in a ruling Wednesday, The Art Newspaper reported, while also ruling that the case will be determined by New York law, under which stolen works can never be legally acquired. “New York is not and shall not become a safe harbour for [art pillaged] during Nazi genocide,” she wrote. The opinion is the latest development in a long-running dispute over Amedeo Modigliani’s Seated Man with a Cane (1918), which Phillipe Maestracci alleges was stolen by Nazis from his grandfather Oscar Stettiner. Maestracci sued Helly Nahmad and his gallery to recover the painting in 2011. The Nahmads claimed the piece was owned by an entity called International Art Center (IAC), but the 2016 Panama Papers leak revealed that IAC was wholly owned by David Nahmad. A lawyer for the dealer told The Art Newspaper the work owned by IAC was not the same work that was looted by the Nazis from Stettiner, and continued to maintain that Maestracci will not win at trial. While far from guaranteeing victory for Maestracci, the judge’s opinion comes only a few weeks after another New York state judge ruled in favor of the heirs of another holocaust victim who seeked the restitution of a pair of Egon Schiele drawings, ordering the British dealer who owns the pieces turn them over at once.