In Grosz v. The Museum of Modern Art, the plaintiffs allege that The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA") acquired three Holocaust-era paintings which had been stolen from expressionist and Dadist painter George Grosz.  These particular paintings have been possessed by MoMA since the 1940’s or 1950’s and are: "Republican Automatons", "Self-Portrait with a Model" and "Portrait of the Poet" a.k.a. The Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse.  The collective value of these paintings could be as much as $10 million, according to "German painter’s heirs suing MoMA". 

The complaint in Grosz alleges that George Grosz was the first artist designated as an ‘enemy of the state’ by the Nazis. (Complaint at p. 3 7).  Subsequent to their confiscation, some of his paintings had even been displayed in Munich at the Nazi’s infamous 1937 "Degenerate Art" exhibition.  The complaint also essentially claims that George Grosz had been the victim of both Nazi persecution and unscrupulous art dealers who had laundered the title of  "Republican Automatons", "Self-Portrait with a Model" and "Portrait of the Poet". (Id., at p. 6  13)  (paintings’ true beneficial ownership obscured by sham transfers, "multilayered" deceptions, etc.).

The complaint for example, alleges that Dutch art dealer Carel van Lier, had stolen Grosz’s "Self-Portrait with a Model" and "Republican Automatons" and had "sanitize[d]" (i.e. laundered) their title via a 1938 sham transfer to himself.  (Id., at p. 28 138 & p. 6 12).  The complaint similarly claims that "Portrait of a Poet" was stolen by the Nazis and then "flipped" to MoMA via N.Y. art dealer Curt Valentin.  (Id., at p.17 ¶76).  Allegations at page 13 ¶¶54 & 55 of the complaint also suggest that Mr. Valentin was possibly used by MoMA’s then vice president and director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., as the nominee purchaser of Nazi-looted art at Galerie Fischer in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1939. 

MoMA is next expected to file its response to the Grosz complaint by June 4, 2009.  As my post "Holocaust-Era Art Restitution Revisited" however recently indicated, Mr. Valentin had in fact transferred Nazi-looted art to MoMA.  A June 30, 1942 letter from MoMA to U.S. authorities additionally suggests that MoMA had an especially good relationship with Mr. Valentin.  In this letter, MoMA / Aflred H. Barr, Jr. asserted that Mr. Valentin was loyal to the U.S. and "devoted to democratic ideals": 


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Copyright 2009 Fred L. Abrams

(Last Edited October 10, 2009)