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Chicago Sun Times
September 13, 2004

Suit disputes claim painting was stolen by Nazis

September 13, 2004

A Chicago arts aficionado is in the midst of a dispute that Nazis once stole the Pablo Picasso masterwork she has owned for nearly 30 years, and she wants a federal judge to deem it's rightfully hers.

Marilynn Alsdorf, a philanthropist and art patron, filed a lawsuit Friday asking that a federal judge declare she has valid title to Picasso's 1922 "Femme en Blanc," thus "removing the cloud" that Nazis in the 1930s looted the painting.

The cloud emerged after a Holocaust survivor's heir filed a lawsuit staking claim to the painting, valued at $10 million. Alsdorf said the claim -- which is backed by the stolen art recovery group Art Loss Register -- has kept potential buyers from coming forward, according to the lawsuit.

Alsdorf and her late husband, James, bought the painting in 1976 from a New York gallery. The art dealer who sold the painting signed an affidavit saying he had no knowledge it was linked to a Nazi looting. Alsdorf argues she has rights to the painting because before she bought it, the New York gallery purchased it legally from a French dealer.

"I think we just have to wait and see what the law says," Alsdorf said Sunday.

In 2002, Thomas C. Bennigson, a law student in California, filed a $10 million lawsuit after the Art Loss Register notified him and tried brokering a deal between the two parties.

Bennigson said the Picasso belongs to his grandmother, Carlotta Landsberg, who fled Berlin in the late 1930s because of her Jewish heritage. Landsberg sent it to an art dealer in Paris for safekeeping, but Nazis took the painting when they occupied Paris during World War II. That lawsuit is now pending before California's Supreme Court, after a lower California court ruled the matter should be moved to Chicago.