Museum Removes Picasso Over Looted Art Controversy

A 1903 painting is at the center of the debate

Pinakothek der Moderne
Munich's Pinakothek der Moderne.
Rufus46, CC BY-SA 3.0

Was a notable painting by Pablo Picasso sold under duress in the years leading up to the Second World War, or was the sale conducted under ethical lines? That’s the big question surrounding Picasso’s 1903 painting Madame Soler. Until recently, the painting in question hung on the walls of Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne. Now, that’s changed — and instead, the painting has been removed from display until the legal issues surrounding it are resolved.

ARTnews has a good rundown of the latest developments in what may be a decades-long case. Germany’s Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Claudia Roth, has sought a resolution on the issue, and stepped in to address an impasse that had developed. Specifically, the Bavarian State Painting Collections had declined to work with the Limbach Commission, which was established to deal with questions surrounding art looted by the Nazis or sold under duress.

Now, as The Art Newspaper reports, the painting has been taken down from where it had previously been on display.

The Bavarian State Painting Collections is one of the two parties arguing it is the rightful owner of Madame Soler. The other is the family of Jewish art collector Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, who died in 1935. A recent DW article explores some of the legal questions that surround the painting — as well as the ambiguity surrounding the painting changing hands from von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy to art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser.

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It isn’t hard to see why a commission might be required to get to the bottom of these issues — and the removal of the painting seems like a step in that direction. But it’s also an indication of the challenges of writing a historical wrong — and, in some cases, trying to determine if there is indeed a wrong that needs resolving at all.

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