Los Angeles Daily Journal
OCTOBER 27, 2004 İ|İ APPELLATE PRACTICE Print İ|İ Email
Federal Agents Work to Seize Picasso Painting
Art Worth $10 Million Was Looted by Nazis During World War II
By Tina Spee
Daily Journal Staff Writer İİİİİİİİLOS ANGELES - Los Angeles federal agents
are trying to seize a $10 million Picasso painting looted by the Nazis
during World War II.
İİİİİİİİThe agents late last week served Chicago art collector Marilynn
Alsdorf with a forfeiture complaint, stating that Alsdorf knowingly shipped
stolen property - that is, the painting - from California to Illinois.
İİİİİİİİ"We thought that the evidence of the theft by the Nazis was very
strong, it was very well-documented and that it was an appropriate situation
for our office to be involved in," says John E. Lee, the assistant U.S.
attorney handling the case. U.S. v. One Oil Painting Entitled "Femme en
Blanc" by Pablo Picasso.
'Femme En Banc'
İİİİİİİİThe Los Angeles U.S. attorney's office complaint comes on the heels
of the state Supreme Court's decision to hear matters related to a lawsuit
filed by Boalt Hall student Thomas Bennigson laying claim to the painting
"Femme En Banc."
İİİİİİİİBennigson filed suit against Alsdorf after learning that his German
grandmother, Carlota Landsberg, had owned the painting before the Nazis
stole it in the 1940s.
İİİİİİİİLandsberg had placed the painting with a Paris art dealer for
safekeeping after the Nazis swept to power.
İİİİİİİİIt resurfaced after Alsdorf, who purchased the painting from a New
York art dealer in the 1970s, put it on the market in 2001. Alerted to the
painting's existence, Bennigson filed suit to recover it.
İİİİİİİİAlsdorf sent the painting to a Los Angeles art dealer to be seen by
prospective buyers but shipped it back to Chicago the morning she was
scheduled to appear to defend against Bennigson's request for a temporary
restraining order to keep the art in Los Angeles.
İİİİİİİİAlsdorf's attorney later successfully argued that the painting's
eight-month appearance in Los Angeles was not enough to establish
jurisdiction in California courts. An appellate court agreed. Bennigson v.
Alsdorf B168200 (Cal. App. 2nd Dist. April 15, 2004).
İİİİİİİİBut in July, the state Supreme Court decided to hear arguments
surrounding the jurisdictional issues in the case.
İİİİİİİİBennigson's attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg, a name partner at Los
Angeles' Burris & Schoenberg, said he agreed with the U.S. attorney's office
that Alsdorf knowingly transported stolen property across state lines.
İİİİİİİİ"We feel that law needs to be enforced ... against people who find
out that they have looted paintings and, even in the face of a mountain of
evidence, decide that it's appropriate to keep the painting and ship it and
try to avoid returning the painting," Schoenberg said.
İİİİİİİİAccording to the federal prosecutor's complaint, Landsberg purchased
the painting in the 1920s, but it disappeared after Landsberg fled to escape
persecution by the Nazis.
İİİİİİİİOn her departure from Europe, Landsberg gave the painting to a
Parisian art collector for safekeeping, but German soldiers stole it when
they looted the collector's home in the 1940s.
İİİİİİİİWhen Alsdorf put the painting on the market in 2001, London's Art
Loss Registry uncovered its history and informed Bennigson, Landsberg's
İİİİİİİİAlsdorf's attorney, Roscoe C. Howard Jr. of the Washington, D.C.,
office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, said he wouldn't rule out a
jurisdictional defense against the forfeiture order.
İİİİİİİİ"Obviously, we want to take a hard look at what they allege and what
they say," Howard said.
İİİİİİİİThe U.S. attorney's civil forfeiture complaint will be heard by U.S.
District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper. A court date has not been set. Alsdorf
will be allowed to keep the painting until the complaint is resolved,
İİİİİİİİAlsdorf also has filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois against Bennigson, trying to secure title to the
İİİİİİİİOn Friday, Schoenberg filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing
Illinois is not the proper venue for the claim.
İİİİİİİİ"Hopefully, we'll let a court decide that," Howard said. "And we've
got a number of courts involved."
© 2004 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.
U.S. acts to protect a Picasso
A painting looted by Nazis is the prize in a tug-of-war between a Chicago
woman and the California heir of the original owners
By Howard Reich
Tribune arts critic
Published October 27, 2004
FBI agents have seized from a prominent Chicago art collector a Picasso
painting that European authorities say was looted by the Nazis.
The government is allowing "Femme en blanc" ("Woman in White") to remain in
the possession of the collector who bought it nearly 30 years ago until the
courts can resolve questions about its legal ownership.
The oil painting, valued at more than $10 million, has been in legal dispute
since 2002, when the California heir of the Holocaust survivor who once
owned it sued Chicago resident Marilynn Alsdorf for the painting.
The representational portrait from Picasso's "classic" period after World
War I depicts a contemplative woman wearing a white gown.
Alsdorf and her late husband, James, purchased the work from a New York art
dealer in 1975. But after the heir, Thomas C. Bennigson, initiated
negotiations with Alsdorf in late 2002, Alsdorf arranged to have the
painting moved from a Los Angeles art gallery back to Chicago, according to
That gesture was unlawful, according to the U. S. attorney's office in Los
Angeles, which filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Central
District of California. Alsdorf transported the painting across state lines
"with knowledge that it was stolen, converted or taken by fraud," the U.S.
attorney's complaint states.
"A person who finally after 60 years tracks down a Nazi-looted painting
shouldn't have to chase the painting from state to state for an ownership
claim," said Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, who represents
The seizure Oct. 21 is "a validation of the arguments we've been making,"
But those arguments have yet to be settled in court, said Alsdorf's
attorney, Roscoe Howard of Washington, D.C.
"What we have is somebody who is contesting ownership," Howard said. "We're
going to look at what the [court] filings are and give an appropriate
"I'm not sure now is the appropriate time to flesh those out," Howard said.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Alsdorf was served with a seizure
warrant and a federal restraining order. The painting, however, remains in
Alsdorf's possession, though under the protection of the court.
"We will certainly preserve the painting and protect its integrity," said
Howard, Alsdorf's attorney.
Until now, both sides have been battling over where the dispute should play
out. Next year, the California Supreme Court will hear arguments over
jurisdiction. Earlier this year, Alsdorf's attorneys filed suit in federal
court in Chicago on jurisdiction; last week Bennigson's representatives
filed a motion in Chicago to dismiss.
Art collectors Robert and Carlota Landsberg bought the 1922 painting in the
mid-1920s. In the late 1930s, when they fled the persecution of Jews in
Berlin, they stored it with Parisian art dealer Justin Thannhauser. The
Nazis looted the painting from Thannhauser's home in 1942, the German
government later determined.
After World War II, the painting was listed in a reference work detailing
looted art works, and the owner began searching for it. The painting changed
hands among art dealers and was purchased by the Alsdorfs from a New York
gallery for $357,000.
After Alsdorf began circulating the painting for possible sale in 2001, the
Art Loss Register, a clearing house for stolen art, informed her that the
work had been looted by the Nazis and that the original owner's heir had
Though Alsdorf initially negotiated with Bennigson, she broke off discussion
in December 2002.
"I felt very uncomfortable about the reliability of the conclusions that the
Art Loss Register had reached about the painting," Alsdorf said in her court
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune
Posted on Wed, Oct. 27, 2004
Feds claim Picasso painting looted by Nazis
LOS ANGELES - The federal government has claimed custody of a $10 million
Pablo Picasso painting that was stolen by Nazis during World War II and is
now at the center of a legal battle, the FBI said Tuesday.
The move allows the federal court in Los Angeles to claim jurisdiction
a case pitting the painting's current owner, a Chicago art collector,
against the grandson of a Jewish woman who sent it to a Paris gallery for
safekeeping before fleeing Berlin.
Last Thursday, FBI agents and U.S. marshals served Marilynn Alsdorf
order barring her from moving the painting from a safe in her Chicago home
until a court decides who it belongs to.
The federal complaint alleges that in December 2002, Alsdorf illegally
the 1922 oil, known as "Femme en blanc" (Woman in White), from California to
Thomas Bennigson of Oakland filed a lawsuit against Alsdorf shortly
she transported the painting. He was notified by an international art
registry that his late grandmother's painting had been put up for sale at a
Los Angeles gallery.
Federal authorities said the painting was subject to forfeiture because
is against the law to knowingly transport stolen goods across state lines.
Bennigson's suit, filed in Los Angeles, was dismissed by a state appellate
court which found California courts did not have jurisdiction over the
That decision is now under review by the state Supreme Court, and last
week's actions by the FBI and federal prosecutors will likely boost
Bennigson's case, said his attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg.
"If they win, Tom Bennigson should win also," Schoenberg said Tuesday.
victims of Nazis or their heirs shouldn't have to chase stolen property from
one state to another."
A flurry of other legal actions have been filed in relation to the painting,
including one by Alsdorf in September.
Alsdorf's attorney, Roscoe Howard, declined to respond publicly to the
week's federal complaint, saying only he would provide the government with
"an excellent and appropriate response" within 30 days.
Alsdorf and her late husband bought the artwork from a New York gallery
1975 for $357,000. Its value is now estimated at $10 million.
Alsdorf said she was surprised by the sudden appearance of about a half
dozen federal agents at her home last Thursday morning. The agents
photographed the painting and handed her court documents saying the artwork
had been technically seized by the government.
"They were very polite," she said. "They just came in very businesslike
However, she added, "I didn't invite them to breakfast."
Los Angeles Times
October 27, 2004
The FBI seizes disputed Picasso
A Picasso painting currently at the center of an ownership dispute has
seized by FBI agents in the Chicago residence of Marilyn Alsdorf, one of the
parties in the dispute. The agency has seized the painting on the grounds
that Alsdorf had unlawfully shipped it from Los Angeles, where an art dealer
was exhibiting it for sale, to her Chicago home in 2002.
The circa-1922 painting, "Femme en Blanc" (Woman in White) is believed to
have been stolen by the Nazis during World War II from the grandmother of
Oakland-based heir Thomas Bennigson. The painting was purchased in 1975 by
Chicago art collectors James and Marilyn Alsdorf before its tie to the Nazis
was discovered. In 2002, Bennigson sued to have the painting returned to
him. İ İ
İAlthough the painting has been taken into U.S. custody, an FBI spokeswoman
said Tuesday that the artwork will remain in Alsdorf's residence until the
courts can determine the rightful owner.
Battle begins over stolen Picasso
The value of Picasso's work has shot up in the past 30 years
A $10m (£5.4m) Picasso painting is in the hands of the US government ahead of a legal wrangle over its ownership.
It was stolen by Nazis during World War II from a Paris gallery after being sent there by its Jewish owner.
The painting's current owner, Marilynn Alsdorf, has been ordered not to move it from her Chicago home until a court decides who owns it.
The original owner's grandson, Thomas Bennigson, wants the 1922 oil painting, Woman in White, to be returned.
Ms Alsdorf and her late husband bought the painting from a New York gallery for $357,000 (£195,000) in 1975.
The US government alleges Ms Alsdorf illegally moved the painting from California to Illinois.
It said the painting was taken into custody because it is against the law to knowingly transport stolen goods across different states.
Mr Bennigson had sued Ms Alsdorf before she transported the painting after being told it had been put up for sale at a Los Angeles gallery.
"The victims of Nazis or their heirs shouldn't have to chase stolen property from one state to another," said Mr Bennigson's lawyer, E Rando Schoenberg.
His case was initially dismissed because it was found that Californian courts did not have jurisdiction over the matter. That decision is now under review.
Meanwhile, the Picasso Museum in the artist's home city of Malaga has revealed it has attracted nearly half a million visitors since it opened a year ago.
The museum has recently been expanded to include a library and auditorium.
Picasso's grandson, Bernardo Ruiz Picasso, said he was delighted about the plans.
"It's crucial, as it means a better integration of the city's cultural and educational life," he said.
When the museum first opened on 27 October last year, it contained about 90 Picasso works loaned by relatives of the artist and various museums.
The expansion means there will be more than 200 works to see when the new wings open on Wednesday.