Home News

Case of looted Picasso may be headed to Chicago

By Howard Reich
Tribune arts critic
Published March 14, 2003

The legal battle over ownership of a $10 million Picasso masterpiece looted by the Nazis during World War II may shift from Los Angeles to Chicago if a tentative ruling issued Thursday by a California judge becomes final and survives appeals.

The dispute centers on Picasso's 1922 oil painting "Femme en blanc" ("Woman in White"), which was stolen by the Nazis from a Paris art dealer's home in 1942, bought by Chicago collectors James and Marilynn Alsdorf from a New York art dealer in 1975 and pursued in Los Angeles County Superior Court last December, when an heir of the original owner sued for its return.

 Since then, Chicago art philanthropist Marilynn Alsdorf and the original owner's heir, Oakland-based Thomas Bennigson, have disagreed on where the civil case should be tried.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victor Person offered a glimpse of his legal reasoning in Thursday's tentative ruling:

"The court does not have general jurisdiction over Alsdorf, an Illinois resident who does not have extensive or systematic and continuous contacts with the state of California," Person wrote.

The plaintiff's claim "does not arise out of Alsdorf's contacts with California; rather, the claim arises because of the Nazis' theft of the painting from France during World War II, and Alsdorf's (and her husband's) purchase of that painting from an art gallery in New York in the 1970s," he wrote.

James Alsdorf died in 1990.

Bennigson's attorney, Holocaust-claims specialist E. Randol Schoenberg, plans to appeal if the decision becomes final.

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune


Judge May Toss Legal Fight for Picasso Work

By Christina Landers
Daily Journal Staff Writer LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor Persón on Thursday appeared to be leaning against trying in California a dispute over a Nazi-looted Picasso painting. Bennigson v. Alsdorf, BC2872941 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Dec. 19, 2002).
Persón's tentative ruling quashing the case for lack of personal jurisdiction favors defendant Marilyn Alsdorf, a 77-year-old Chicago resident who returned the painting, titled "Femme en blanc," to Illinois after a court fight broke out here.
Thomas S. Bennigson sued Alsdorf, who has owned the Picasso for decades, after learning that the painting had belonged to his late grandmother before the Nazis confiscated it.
Alsdorf had been trying to sell the painting through the Los Angeles-based art gallery of David Tunkl when a potential buyer uncovered its background.
Persón was prepared to grant Alsdorf's motion, until E. Randol Schoenberg, Bennigson's attorney and partner with Los Angeles' Burris & Schoenberg, persuaded Persón to consider other arguments.
"We are pleased with his tentative ruling and feel confident he will file it," said Polly Towill of Los Angeles' Sheppard Mullin, an attorney for Alsdorf. Former L.A. District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian, also with Sheppard Mullin, recently joined Alsdorf's legal team, which also includes Richard H. Chapman of Chicago's Fagel & Haber.
"The law couldn't be more clear that the state has jurisdiction in this case," Schoenberg said.

© 2003 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.