A museum in Munich has taken down a Picasso portrait after a recent intervention from the German culture minister over its disputed ownership.
“I expressly call on the Bavarian state government to finally clear the way for the Bavarian State Painting Collections to agree to an appeal to the Advisory Commission,” Culture Minister Claudia Roth told the Bavarian publication Süddeutsche Zeitung. “This is really overdue now,” she said, hinting at passing a new restitution law.
The Limbach Commission, a government-established body that handles restitutions, has attempted to intervene in the dispute over the 1903 portrait Madame Soler by Pablo Picasso, which has been on display at the Pinakothek der Moderne for almost six decades. But the Bavarian State Painting Collections has not agreed to any mediation so far.
The removal of Picasso’s Madame Soler from public view at the museum is the latest development in a long and bitter dispute between the heirs of art collector Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and the Bavarian State Painting Collections, which bought the painting in 1964. The two parties disagree on whether the painting was sold under duress during the rise of Nazis in Germany.
Madame Soler portrays the wife of Picasso’s friend, the tailor Benet Soler, and was painted during the artist’s Blue Period. The museum has denied that this is a case of looted art, since owner-collector Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy transferred it across the Swiss border to an art dealer in the early 1930s amid rising antisemitism.
According to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the dealer Justin Thannhauser offered Madame Soler, as well as four other Picasso paintings, for sale in October 1935, only a few months after Mendelssohn-Bartholdy died of a heart attack.
But under threat from the Nazis, Thannhauser fled Germany and then Paris in 1940 to the US with the unframed paintings in his luggage.
In November 1964, the Bavarian State Painting Collections purchased Madame Soler from Thannhauser through a Liechtenstein-based company, and then it was hung in the Pinakothek der Moderne museum.
The Pinakothek der Moderne has asserted that painting’s transfer to dealer Thannhauser is valid and Madame Soler is not a case of looted art. However, historian Julius Schoeps, a descendent of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, argued otherwise in a 186-page book titled Who owns Picasso’s ‘Madame Soler’? How the Free State of Bavaria dealt with a spectacular Nazi-looted art case that was published last year.
The stance of the Pinakothek der Moderne could also contradict the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, a set of international guidelines that the Federal Republic of Germany co-signed.
The Art Newspaper, which first reported the news of the painting’s removal, noted that two other Picasso works previously owned by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy were also the subject of a settlement between his descendants and the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.