MANHATTAN (CN) - The Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation sued Julius Schoeps in Federal Court, insisting the museums fairly and absolutely own two Picassos - "Boy Leading a Horse" and "Le Moulin de la Galette" - which Schoeps claims the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family sold under Nazi duress in 1933.
MoMA acquired Boy Leading a Horse (1906) as a gift from William S. Paley in 1964 and "absolutely acquired" it on Paley' death in 1990, the Museum says.
The Guggenheim got Le Moulin de la Galette (1900) as a gift from Justin Thannhauser in 1963, and "absolutely acquired" it in 1978 after his death, it says.
"Thannhauser was a leading Hewish art dealer in Berlin who was forced to flee Germany in 1937. Paley was the son of a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant ... and president and then chairman of MoMA."
Both paintings had previously been part of the collection of Paul Robert Ernst von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a member of the illustrious family that includes the composer Felix Mendelssohn, and his philosopher grandfather.
Paul Mendelssohn gave the paintings to his second wife, Elsa Lucy Emmy Lolo von Lavergue-Peguilhen, later Countess Kesselstatt, in 1927, the museums claim. Paul Mendelssohn died in 1935, apparently while the paintings were on loan in Switzerland. Thannhauser's partner Siegfried Rosengart and art dealer Albert Skira sold Boy Leading a Horse to Paley in Switzerland in 1936, and Thannhauser brought Le Moulin with him to the United States in 1940, the museums say.
Schoeps claims to represent the Mendelssohn heirs, but not Paul Mendelssohn's second wife, who allegedly acquired the paintings before the transfers at issue here.
"The issue Schoeps raises is solely whether the sale of the paintings to Galerie Thannhauser by August 1935 was a forced sale."
The museums seek clear title. They are represented by Evan Davis with Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton.
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