A Jewish family has filed a lawsuit against the Guggenheim Museum in New York City seeking the repatriation of an iconic painting by Pablo Picasso that they allege was sold to allow the family to escape Nazi Germany in 1938. Photo courtesy of Kristopher McKay/Guggenheim Museum
Jan. 29 (UPI) -- A Jewish family has filed a lawsuit against the Guggenheim Museum in New York City seeking the repatriation of an iconic painting by Pablo Picasso that they allege was sold to allow the family to escape Nazi Germany in 1938.
The lawsuit was filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan on Friday by the heirs of heirs of Karl Adler and Rosi Jacobi, according to court documents obtained by UPI.
The Adler family has enlisted the support of groups including the Salvation Army, the Jewish Guild for the Blind and Oxfam America among others in the pursuit of the return of Picasso's 1904 work "Woman Ironing (La repasseuse)," which was made during the artist's Blue Period before the birth of cubism.
An article on the Picasso painting at the Guggenheim's website notes that the painting was made while Picasso was still an unknown artist living in poverty.The oil on canvas panting, which measures 45 ¾ in. x 28 ¾ in, was acquired by Karl Adler in 1916, according to the lawsuit.
Adler, who ran a leather manufacturing company until he was forced to give up his post during Nazi persecution in 1937, lived with his wife in Baden-Baden from June 1912 until June 1938, when they fled Germany to escape the Holocaust.
The couple planned to escape Europe to Argentina with their youngest son but "needed large amounts of cash just to obtain short-term visas during their exile in Europe."
"Unable to work, on the run, and not knowing what the future would hold for them, the Adlers had to liquidate what they could to quickly raise as much cash as possible," the lawsuit reads.
"Thus, within a few short months of their escape from Germany, in October 1938, Adler was forced to sell the painting for well below its actual value."
The Adlers sold the painting for around $1,552 to Justin Thannhauser, the son of Munich gallery owner Heinrich Thannhauser whom Karl Adler had purchased the painting from years prior.
"Adler would not have disposed of the Painting at the time and price that he did, but for the Nazi persecution to which he and his family had been, and would continue to be, subjected," the lawsuit reads.
The Adler family was finally granted permission to enter Argentina in April 1940, where they lived the rest of their lives.
Justin Thannhauser loaned the panting to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which insured the painting for nearly 13 times what he had paid for the painting.
Thannhauser then loaned the painting to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in August 1939, which insured the painting for $25,000. He allegedly insisted that the museum's director not tell anyone how low the insured value was because he would not sell the painting for such a low price.
The art collector later immigrated to the United States and held on to the painting until October 1963, when he allegedly told the Guggenheim that he would gift the painting to the museum upon his dead.
Thannhauser died in December 1976 and the painting entered the Guggenheim's collection two years later.
Adler's descendants are seeking either the return of the painting or compensation commensurate with its current market value, estimated at up to $200 million.
The Guggenheim Museum told CNN in a statement that the sale of the painting to Thannhuaser represented a "fair transaction" and said it is the rightful owners of the famed work.
The lawsuit comes as institutions and govermnets around the world work to repriate work looted from other countries, including art stolen by Nazis during World War II.
The Spanish government has returned two paintings to Poland which were stolen during World War II on Wednesday as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City returned dozens of artifacts looted from Italy.
The return of the paintings was announced Wednesday by Poland's Culture Minister Piotr Gliński and Spain's Embassy in Poland.
The paintings depict Jesus and the Virgin Mary and together make a singular work, known as a diptych, and were made in the mid-15th Century and were originally believed to have been made by the Flemish master Dieric Bouts himself but have since been attributed to other artists in his studio.