March 7, 2018

RISD Museum Picasso Will Not Be Returned to Heirs of Nazi-Persecuted Art Dealer

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—Trustees from Rhode Island School of Design’s board have denied a claim that a painting in the school museum’s collection, Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise au livre (Seated Woman with a Book), ca. 1910, was stolen by the Nazis from the Jewish art collector and dealer Alphonse Kann, writes Martha Lufkin of the Art Newspaper. The museum purchased the work from the Carstairs Gallery, which was based in the US, in 1951.

The dealer narrowly escaped the Nazi occupation of France by moving to London. The Nazis pillaged his home in St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, in October of 1940. After World War II, most of Kann’s 1,202 works inventoried by the Nazis were given back to him; the dealer, however, did not keep an exact record of his holdings.

Kann’s heirs began searching for missing works in 1990 and made their first claim on RISD’s Picasso eight years ago. The school then asked Laurie Stein, a provenance expert who specializes in Nazi-looted artworks, to look into the family’s claim. Based on her findings, RISD abandoned the case in 2012. The Kann Association then requested that the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York look into the circumstances surrounding the painting in 2015. RISD once again asked Stein, along with other experts throughout the US and France, to scrutinize all newly available information about the work. After the research—which involved poring over thousands of documents and archives from several countries—Stein concluded that although Kann once owned the Picasso, it was not thieved from his collection. According to the report, “Kann either sold or exchanged” the Picasso that now resides in RISD’s collection, “as he was active in the art market and was engaged in selling works by Picasso to dealers.”

Kann’s heirs have been successful with other restitution claims, however: in 2008, the Minneapolis Institute of Artreturned a work by Fernand Léger to the family, and in 2006, they struck up a deal with the French government, allowing Georges Braque’s Man with a Guitar, 1914, to remain on display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

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