Picasso lawsuit resolved
Picasso’s 1922 portrait Woman in White will remain in the hands of Chicago collector Marilyn Alsdorf, at a hefty price. In response to a lawsuit filed two years ago, Alsdorf has agreed to pay $6.5 million to Thomas Bennigson, a California man who claims that the Nazis stole the painting from his grandmother during World War II [see “Front Page,” Jan. ’05]. Alsdorf bought the painting from a New York gallery in 1975 for $357,000; today it is estimated to be worth $10 million.
Believed to be a portrait of famed American expatriate Sarah Murphy, the painting was made during Picasso’s neo-classical period. Bennigson’s grandmother, Carlotta Landsberg, bought it in Berlin in the mid-1920s. When Landsberg fled to the U.S., she entrusted the painting to collector Justin K. Thannhauser, who himself soon had to flee. The painting was subsequently looted from Thannhauser’s Paris warehouse.
After the war, the German government recognized that Landsberg, who died in 1994, was the painting’s rightful owner, but there was no public trace of it until 2001 when the canvas turned up in an exhibition at a Los Angeles gallery. Last year, as a result of Bennigson’s litigation, Woman in White was impounded by the F.B.I. Since then, Alsdorf has counter-sued in an Illinois court and the federal government has stepped in with a third stolen-property lawsuit. The recent settlement also requires that the dealer who originally sold the painting to Alsdorf, Stephen Hahn, pay Bennigson an amount equal to the profit Hahn made from that sale.
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