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Qatar Royalty Sued Over Rights to Picasso Bust

MANHATTAN (CN) - Qatari royalty plan to seize a Picasso bust being exhibited by New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Gagosian Gallery claims in a federal complaint.

The Gagosian filed the complaint Tuesday against Pelham Europe Ltd., the London, England-based entity that purchases art on behalf of Qatar's royal family. Reports say the family has a stake in 25 percent of the Middle East's $11 billion art world.

In the Gagosian's complaint, the gallery claims that Pelham Europe wrote it this past October regarding a purported priority claim to a 1931 sculpture by Pablo Picasso titled "Buste de Femme (Marie Therese)."

The Gagosian says it bought the work in 2015 from Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the granddaughter of Picasso's mistress, Marie Therese Walter, whom the bust depicts.

Widmaier-Picasso allegedly sold the work to the Gagosian for $105.8 million, and the gallery says it has paid $79.735 million, or 75 percent of the total price, so far.

MoMA will be exhibiting the sculpture until Feb. 7, 2016, and Pelham Europe has been threatening to seize the work from that museum, according to the complaint.

Despite the work's value, Pelham Europe claims that it was promised the bust for the "inexplicably low price" of $42 million, according to the complaint.

The Gagosian says Pelham Europe claims to have reached the purchase agreementn on Nov. 13, 2014.

This date purportedly fell in a two-month period during which Widmaier-Picasso had commissioned the firm Connery, Pissarro, Seydoux to sell the bust.

The Gagosian says Pelham paid only $6.6 million before Widmaier-Picasso deemed the transaction null and void, having been reminded by her daughter that buyers offered more than $100 million for the work in 2011.

After Widmaier-Picasso returned all of Pelham-Europe's purchase payments to Connery Pissarro Seydoux in April 2015, the firm canceled the sale a month later, according to the complaint.

The Gagosian says Pelham's purchase agreement clearly says "no title shall pass to the buyer, and buyer shall have no right whatsoever on the Property, until it has made full payment in good, clear funds."

Pelham Europe is suing Picasso's granddaughter in Switzerland to complete the sale, and it petitioned a French court to seize the work from her, according to the complaint.

The Gagosian notes that the petition proved unsuccessful

Noting that it plans to sell the bust to a third party once the MOMA exhibit concludes next month, the Gagosian says Pelham's threats and claims to the work "slander plaintiff's rightful title, hinder plaintiff's enjoyment of the work, and interfere with plaintiff's ability to sell the work."

The Gagosian seeks ruling affirming its ownership of the sculpture.

It is represented by Matthew Dontzin of Dontzin Nagy & Fleissig.

Representatives for Pelham Europe have not returned a request for comment.

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