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Collector Sues Christie’s Over Alleged Nazi Loot Painting

A collector has filed suit against Christie’s over a painting she acquired from the auction house nearly two decades ago, after information emerged that the work had been stolen by the Nazis, according to her claim.

NEW YORK—A collector has filed suit against Christie’s over a painting she acquired from the auction house nearly two decades ago, after information emerged that the work had been stolen by the Nazis, according to her claim.

In 1991, South Korean collector Yoon Young Im acquired Portrait, an oil painting by French artist Marie Laurencin (1885–1956), at Christie’s in New York for $235,000 including the buyer’s premium. According to her lawsuit, which was filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in 2006 the collector consigned the painting for sale at Sotheby’s in London. “During the course of their due diligence,” the complaint says, “. . . Sotheby’s uncovered evidence that the painting was stolen by the Nazis from Paul Rosenberg, a well-known Paris art dealer during the Second World War, while Nazis occupied Paris.”

The painting was allegedly part of a large collection owned by Rosenberg, and “is on a list of paintings which was prepared by the Rosenberg family in 1963, and which was circulated by the French government around that time,” according to the lawsuit. “A reasonably prudent auction house would have discovered” that the painting was on this list, the complaint argues. Yoon Young Im is seeking at least $235,000 in compensation for what she describes as an “unsaleable” painting.

The Rosenberg family’s counsel in Paris has made a demand for return of the painting, according to information in the suit. Yoon Young Im’s complaint says that she expects the Rosenberg family to sue for return of the painting. “The knowledge of this significant cloud upon the painting’s provenance has rendered it unsaleable,” the suit states, adding that Sotheby’s informed the collector it will not sell the painting and “is in possession of it pending further proceedings or agreement between the interested parties.”

In a filing last month, Christie’s attorney Thomas Kline, of Andrews Kurth in Wash­ington, D.C., requested that the court give Christie’s until Jan. 30 to answer or respond to the complaint. As ARTnewsletter went to press, Yoon Young Im’s attorney, Richard Altman, said that a meeting had been scheduled with Christie’s counsel for Jan. 16, adding that “a resolution is in everyone’s best interest.” A Christie’s spokesperson said the auction house will comment on the matter “at the appropriate time.”

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