Just last week, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. returned a Pablo Picasso pastel to the heirs of a German-Jewish banker in an effort to avoid any restitution-related litigation. In a surprise development, the work is already up for sale—this time via famed dealer Larry Gagosian.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Gagosian is peddling Picasso’s 1903 drawing Head of a Woman for $10 million. Gagosian reportedly claims that the heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy—the banker who held the work until it was sold, possibly under duress—approached him in September with the hope of selling the work.
After the deal was inked last week to return the painting, Gagosian collected the work from the National Gallery—via a courier from Pennsylvania, who was employed to allay fears of the potential risks associated with someone from New York coming to claim the drawing during the current pandemic.
The heirs to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy claim that the banker sold this Picasso and 15 others by the artist in an effort to keep his business alive. John Byrne, a lawyer for the heirs, told the Wall Street Journal that the family had been “eviscerated by the Nazis.” Head of a Woman ended up being bought by dealer Justin K. Thannhauser in 1934.
Several other Picassos owned by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy have also been subject to restitution claims. In 2009, the heirs sued the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, both in New York, over their possession of a Picasso work and a Pierre-Auguste Renoir work. The suit was settled for an undisclosed sum, and as part of it, the museums got to keep their paintings. And, in 2010, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation after it tried to sell a Blue Period Picasso at a Christie’s auction.