A federal judge on Wednesday ruled for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to retain Pablo Picasso's painting "The Actor." A descendant of a German couple who fled the Nazis and sold the Picasso to finance an escape from World War II Europe, claimed the painting should be returned to her, or its $100 million value was due to her.
Laurel Zuckerman, the grand-niece of Alice and Paul Leffmann, sued the Met for the work with the claim that it was sold under duress during the Nazi era. The Leffmanns had owned “The Actor” from 1912, sent the work to a friend in Switzerland to keep it from the Nazis, and then fled to Italy themselves. During the rise of Italian fascism, the Leffmanns sold the work to an art dealer in 1938 for U.S. $12,000 to fund an escape to Switzerland and Brazil. The work was then sold to the Chrysler family who donated it to the Met.
The judge dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence in the painting's sale resulting from "duress under the standards of New York law or Italian law," as the 1938 transaction “occurred between private individuals, not at the command of the Fascist or Nazi governments.”
“Although the Leffmanns felt economic pressure during the undeniably horrific circumstances of the Nazi and Fascist regimes, that pressure, when not caused by the counterparties to the transaction (or the defendant) where the duress is alleged, is insufficient to prove duress with respect to the transaction,” said Judge Loretta Preska.