Pablo Picasso had already lived in Paris for four years, but he was still an unknown young painter when he painted The ironing machineone of the most famous works of the Cubist master in the Museum’s collection Guggenheim, New York. the painterhe resorted to a palette dominated by blues, grays and whites, the one that embodied the so-called “blue period”, to depict a young woman ironing. The 1904 painting, which shows Picasso’s interest in the living conditions of the most disadvantaged working class, an empathy felt by someone who also lived in relative poverty in the early years of his career, the museum’s website describes, is at the center of an action court entered This month in a New York court.
Woman ironing the The rest It was owned by a German couple. Jews, Karl and Rosie Adler, who in 1938, after fleeing Nazi Germany, sold the Picasso painting outside German soil for one-ninth of its value. More than 80 years later, the heirs claim ownership of the work.
The painting, which was bequeathed to the Guggenheim Museum in the 1970s by a merchant and collector, also Jewish, is valued at between 100 and 200 million euros, according to the court case.
Descendants of the German couple filed a lawsuit in New York state Supreme Court against the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, which since 1978 has exhibited the Spanish master’s work, considered one of the masterpieces of the period. blue, lasting from 1900 to 1904;
The plaintiffs, who join a group of heirs in the United States and Argentina, claim in the January 20 lawsuit that there was a “forced” sale in October 1938 because the Adler family was pressured to sell the painting, Lusa news agency reports.
In a statement, the Guggenheim Museum disputes the lawsuit, which it says is without merit. It was a “fair trade” that was made with a gallery the family knew welljustifies the museum, which is invoked average North Americans. “At the time, Adler would not have rejected the painting, not even for the price at which he did it, had it not been for the Nazi persecution he and his family had suffered and would continue to suffer,” the complaint says. invoked by New York Times.
agony of exile
Woman ironing purchased by Karl Adler in 1916 from Heinrich Thannhauser, German-Jewish gallerist from Munich. Adler, who owned a tannery, lived with his wife in Baden-Baden, near Strasbourg.
With Hitler coming to power in the 1930s, the Nazis began the persecution of Jews through a series of laws, namely the Nuremberg Laws, which were passed seizure goods and inheritance. The Adler family decided to leave the country in June 1938, passing through a series of countries – Holland, France and Switzerland – before obtaining visas for Argentina, where they ended up settling in the 1940s.
To obtain a visa and ticket, the Adlers had to sell the painting in October 1938 to Justin Thannhauser, the son of a Munich gallerist, had just found refuge in Paris. The sale went for $1552, which would be about $32,000 today, nine times less than the $14,000 the Adlers could have aspired to fetch with the Picasso painting in the early 1930s.
In 1940, the Alder family left Europe by ship for Buenos Aires, she tells the magazine art forumheight at which Justin Thannhauser had already lent the painting to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, showing interest that the work would already be awakened.
The central argument of the complaint is that the work, currently valued on the art market between $100 and $200 million, was sold under duress.
“Thannhauser was well aware of the Adler family’s anguish,” claim the heirs, notably great-grandson Thomas Bennigson, and several American Jewish organizations. The lawsuit is based on a 2016 law, the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, which covers the return of art to Holocaust victims.
In 1976, when Justin Thannhauser died, his collection was bequeathed to the Guggenheim. Before this inheritance, The ironing machine was on loan for more than a decade at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from New York. It has been on display almost non-stop since 1978 as one of the highlights of the Picasso collection. Guggenheim, which includes more from 30 works of the cubist painter.
The foundation says that, at the time, it contacted a son of Karl Adler and other family members who expressed no reservations about selling it to Justin Thannhauser.
In a statement cited by the North American newspaper, the Guggenheim says it “takes the provenance of works, as well as requests for restoration, very seriously” and that it has already “conducted extensive research and detailed investigation” of Picasso’s works. work..
The museum, which was first contacted by the heirs in 2017, claims to be the “rightful owner” of the painting. “The facts demonstrate that the sale of the Karl Adler painting to Justin Thannhauser was a fair transaction between the parties with an enduring and continuing relationship,” the museum says. “The Guggenheim believes that the outcome of this lawsuit will confirm that it is its rightful owner Woman ironing.”
Nicholas M. O’Donnell, art attorney heard by New York Times, said it may be significant to the outcome of the lawsuit that Adler sold the painting only after he left Hitler’s Germany. If law and history recognize that Jews were persecuted and had no power to make a fair deal within Nazi-controlled territory, it is less clear how it can recognize such coercion outside German territory.
It is not the first time that his name Justin Thannhauser appears to have been involved in deals that resulted in lawsuits under anti-expropriated Nazi art legislation. In 2020, another work by Picasso was claimed The National Gallery of Art Washington by the heirs of the banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. The controversy ended with the return of Picasso’s drawing, a 1903 pastel also from the blue period.
As part of the celebrations dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death this year, the Guggenheim Museum is organizing an exhibition dedicated to the artistic career of the most famous artist of the 20th century, more specifically to his early years in Paris, in an exhibition entitled The young Picasso in Pariswhich is scheduled to open in May.
It is possible that this Painting from the final phase of the blue period has something to add to the story the exhibition tells. As the Guggenheim website dedicated to the painting recalls, this woman who, in her angular delicacy, presses an iron with all her might is “a metaphor for the misfortunes of the working poor.” “Perhaps no artist depicted the condition of the lower classes more painfully than Picasso,” adds the page dedicated to the painting, signed by Nancy. Spectorformer director of the museum. With Luza