Jun 27
The Metropolitan Museum will keep a Picasso masterpiece sold by a Jewish couple fleeing the Nazis.
The Metropolitan Museum. Photo by Fcb981, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Metropolitan Museum. Photo by Fcb981, via Wikimedia Commons.

After nearly a decade, there is an end to the saga of who gets to keep a Pablo Picasso masterpiece currently hanging at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Despite the fact that the previous owners of Picasso’s six-foot-tall painting The Actor (1904–05) insisted they sold it under duress during the run-up to World War II, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann supported previous rulings and said that the work should stay at the Met, where it has been in the collection since 1952.

According to the ruling, the 2010 claim of ownership came too long after the initial sale in 1938, when The Actor was sold by Alice and Paul Leffmann to an art dealer in Paris for $12,000 as the German Jewish couple fled the spread of Nazism. The claim was brought by Laurel Zuckerman, the great-grandniece of Paul and Alice Leffmann (who died in 1956 and 1966, respectively).

As Katzmann wrote in the ruling:

Based on the unusual circumstances presented by the complaint, we conclude that the Met has been prejudiced by the more than six decades that have elapsed since the end of World War II. [. . .] This time interval has resulted in ‘deceased witnesses, faded memories [. . .] and hearsay testimony of questionable value,’ as well as the likely disappearance of documentary evidence.

The ruling also noted that the Leffmanns successfully made restitution claims related to Nazi looting during their lifetimes, but never sought the return of their Picasso. In a statement quoted by Courthouse News, the museum said: “The Met considers all Nazi-era claims thoroughly and responsibly, and has restituted objects when evidence indicates that they were unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era, which is not the case here.”