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Jewish family Sues Guggenheim over Picasso Stolen by Nazis

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum (Wikipedia)

The Guggenheim Museum in New York is being sued by the descendants of a Holocaust victim over the ownership of a painting by Pablo Picasso called “Woman Ironing.” The painting was owned by Karl Adler, who was forced in 1938 by the Nazi regime in Germany to sell it for a fraction of its value before fleeing Europe. The family now contends in a lawsuit that the Guggenheim, which acquired the painting in 1978, does not have legal ownership of it and they seek restitution.

The Guggenheim Museum told Artforum that the suit is “without merit,” because it contacted Adler’s heirs in the 1970s about the matter and none made an issue over the painting’s ownership that the museum already possessed at the time.

Guggenheim Museum spokesperson Sara Fox also said in a statement, “It is unclear on what basis claimants more than 80 years after Adler’s sale of Woman Ironing appear to have come to a view as to the fairness of the transaction that neither Karl Adler nor his immediate descendants appear to have ever expressed, even when the Guggenheim contacted the family directly to ask. The facts demonstrate that Karl Adler’s sale of the painting to Justin Thannhauser was a fair transaction between parties with a longstanding and continuing relationship.”

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The Guggenheim Museum website explains “Woman Ironing” was painted at a time when Picasso “focused almost exclusively on the disenfranchised” during what is known as his Blue Period (1901–04.the painting is “known for its melancholy palette of predominantly blue tones and its gloomy themes.”

“Living in relative poverty as a young, unknown artist during his early years in Paris, Picasso no doubt empathized with the laborers and beggars around him and often portrayed them with great sensitivity and pathos,” explains the Guggenheim Museum. “Woman Ironing, painted at the end of the Blue Period in a lighter but still bleak color scheme of whites and grays, is Picasso’s quintessential image of travail and fatigue. Although rooted in the social and economic reality of turn-of-the-century Paris, the artist’s expressionistic treatment of his subject—he endowed her with attenuated proportions and angular contours—reveals a distinct stylistic debt to the delicate, elongated forms of El Greco. Never simply a chronicler of empirical facts, Picasso here imbued his subject with a poetic, almost spiritual presence, making her a metaphor for the misfortunes of the working poor.”

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