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Fight Over Rights to Modigliani Painting

MIAMI (CN) - A Florida art gallery claims it paid more than $200,000 to display a Modigliani painting in Rome and Milan for a consignor, and when it obtained a $5.5 million offer for the work, the consignor refused to make the deal, saying that his wife actually owned it.

Tableau Fine Art Group claims Walter M. Rusniaczek consigned Amedeo Modigliani's "Jeune Femme a la Guimpa Blanche" for sale, with Rusniaczek and the gallery to split the sale price, if it were $5 million or more. Their agreement was that "advance costs for promotion and exhibition of the Painting in Rome, Italy ... would be reimbursed from the sale of the painting," according to the complaint in Miami-Dade County Court.

But the gallery claims that after it got the $5.5 million offer, Rusniaczek backed out, saying he didn't really own it and had no right to sell it. Rusniaczek told the gallery he had given the painting to his wife 6 years before he consigned it for exhibition and sale, according to the complaint.

Modigliani is believed to have painted the work in or around 1918.

Rusniaczek apparently wants to donate the money he makes from selling the art to Bohemian Hospital, where he, his wife and daughter are officers. The gallery also listed the hospital as a defendant.

Tableau says Rusniaczek is attempting "to evade his responsibilities and liabilities under the Sale Agreement and Consignment" by not paying Tableau for its services and selling the painting to another party.

It seeks damages for fraud, conspiracy, breach of contract and tortious interference.

Tableau is represented by George Savage.

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