July 31, 2004
A preliminary move on disputed Picasso
The state Supreme Court agrees to weigh the matter's jurisdiction.
By Diane Haithman, Times Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether state courts can
hear a dispute over the ownership of a Picasso painting allegedly stolen
from the plaintiff's grandmother by Nazis during World War II.
The dispute centers on Picasso's 1922 oil painting "Femme en blanc" (Woman
in White), believed to have been stolen from a Paris art dealer's home in
1942 and purchased in 1975 by Chicago collectors and philanthropists James
and Marilyn Alsdorf from a New York art dealer.
In 2002, Marilyn Alsdorf sent the painting to Los Angeles to be exhibited
and sold by art dealer David Tunkl but later ordered Tunkl to return the
painting to Chicago. Tunkl had informed her that, according to provenance
research by the Art Loss Register, the painting had been stolen during the
The ownership dispute was pursued in Los Angeles County Superior Court when
the heir, Oakland-based Thomas Bennigson, sued to have the painting returned
to him. The widowed Marilyn Alsdorf and Bennigson have since disagreed on
where the case should be tried.
Bennigson's attorney, Holocaust-claims specialist E. Randol Schoenberg, said
that "according to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the courts of this state
have the authority to determine ownership of property that is in the state,
and the painting was in the state at the time the suit was filed."
Schoenberg said his client filed suit while the Picasso was still at Los
Angeles International Airport waiting to be shipped back to Chicago in 2002.