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For Immediate Release: August 9, 2005

Litigation Over Picasso Painting Settled Out of Court

 LOS ANGELES, CHICAGO,  Litigation pending in three separate forums regarding ownership of a Pablo Picasso painting, Femme en blanc (Woman in White), has been resolved by mutual agreement in an out-of-court settlement. The painting was reported by the Art Loss Register, Ltd. of London, England to have been looted by Nazis in Paris during the Holocaust and disappeared from public view for 35 years. Plaintiff Thomas Bennigson, resident of the Bay Area in Northern California, grandson and sole heir of Carlota Landsberg, the original owner of the painting, filed a civil suit in California state court that was pending before the California Supreme Court on jurisdictional issues. The defendant in that lawsuit, Marilynn Alsdorf of Chicago, Illinois, who with her now deceased husband James Alsdorf had purchased the painting in 1976 from the Stephen Hahn Gallery in New York City, filed suit in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois in which she asked the court to remove the cloud that had been placed on her title to the painting.  Following investigation by the Los Angeles Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Attorneys Office filed a lawsuit to seize and recover the painting in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Agreement was reached after discussion and negotiation between the parties and their attorneys in Los Angeles on June 13, moderated by United States Magistrate Judge Margaret A. Nagle of U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Thomas Bennigson was represented by his legal counsel, E. Randol Schoenberg of Burris & Shoenberg, LLP in Los Angeles. Marilynn Alsdorf was represented by her attorneys, Richard H. Chapman and David M. Rownd of FagelHaber, LLC in Chicago. Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California John E. Lee attended the session and concurred that issues in the government’s case were appropriately resolved with the settlement agreement. While maintaining that the painting had been purchased in good faith with proper legal title, Marilynn Alsdorf agreed to the settlement citing her advanced age and the need to resolve financial claims so her commitments to family and charitable organizations may be completed. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Mrs. Alsdorf will make a substantial monetary payment to Mr. Bennigson after the United States District Court for the Central District of California enters a Consent Judgment decreeing that Mrs. Alsdorf has incontestable title to the painting.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
$6.5M settlement in suit over stolen Picasso painting
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

A Bay Area man's lawsuit over a Picasso painting that was once owned by
his German Jewish grandmother, and was stolen by the Nazis, has been
settled for $6.5 million, his lawyer said today.

   The money will be paid by a Chicago woman who, with her now-deceased
husband, bought 'Femme en Blanc" from a Manhattan art gallery for $345,000
in 1976, said Randol Schoenberg, lawyer for Tom Bennigson of Oakland. The
woman, Marilynn Alsdorf, and her husband, James, made the purchase
"completely in good faith, with no idea of its history or background,"
Schoenberg said.

   The 1922 painting, a somber portrait of a woman in whites and grays, was
sent by Carlotta Landsberg to an art dealer in Paris for safekeeping
before she fled Berlin in 1938 or 1939. She settled in South America and
next heard from the dealer in a 1958 letter that said his entire
collection had been stolen by the Nazis after they occupied Paris in 1940.

   The painting next surfaced in 2001, when a Los Angeles dealer brought it
to Paris for sale. A prospective buyer contacted the Art Loss Register,
which found "Femme en Blanc" on a list of looted works and identified
Landsberg as its owner.

   The register traced Landsberg to New York, where she had died in 1994, and
also located Bennigson, her only heir, who was unaware of his
grandmother's painting or her efforts to find it. He was then a law
student at UC Berkeley and has since graduated and passed the bar exam,
said Schoenberg, his lawyer.

   Bennigson filed a $10 million suit against Marilynn Alsdorf, who had
placed the painting with the Los Angeles dealer after her husband's death
but recovered it after learning its history. Alsdorf sued in Illinois to
establish her title to the painting, and the federal government also
entered a claim in federal court.

   Under the settlement, reached with the aid of a federal magistrate,
Alsdorf will keep the painting. The New York dealer who sold it to her --
and who also denied knowledge of its origin -- will add an unspecified sum
to Bennigson's compensation, Schoenberg said. He said the settlement
amount will cover his legal fees and a payment to the Art Loss Register.

   Compared to other U.S. legal disputes over art work looted by the Nazis,
"this is probably the largest and most successful settlement," Schoenberg
said. 'I'm pleased that Mrs. Alsdorf has seen fit to do the right thing."

   E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle
 

Posted on Tue, Aug. 09, 2005

$6.5 million settlement reached over Picasso looted by Nazis

BY HOWARD REICH
Chicago Tribune
 

CHICAGO - (KRT) - A Chicago art collector has agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle a claim that a Picasso oil painting she bought in 1975 was looted by the Nazis.

Marilynn Alsdorf, who acquired Picasso's "Femme en blanc" ("Woman in White") from New York art dealer Stephen Hahn for $357,000, will pay the sum to Californian Thomas Bennigson, whose grandmother owned the painting before it was confiscated during the Holocaust.

Though Alsdorf has fought Bennigson's claim since 2002, when he sued for $10 million in California state court, she agreed to settle after attorneys for both parties met June 13 in Los Angeles before Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle of U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

"I think she has very personal reasons for doing it," said Alsdorf's attorney, Richard Chapman, adding that Alsdorf would not comment on the case.

Alsdorf is "maintaining that the painting had been purchased in good faith with proper legal title," according to a statement released by the Chicago law firm representing her, FagelHaber LLC, but she "agreed to the settlement citing her advanced age and the need to resolve financial claims so her commitments to family and charitable organizations may be completed." Alsdorf is 80.

But Bennigson's attorney disputes Alsdorf's contention that she owned the painting legally.

"I think it's very clear that she didn't get good title, and that's why we had a lawsuit," said E. Randol Schoenberg of the Los Angeles firm Burris & Schoenberg LLP.

"It was clear that Mrs. Alsdorf had no (legal) defense, that this painting had been stolen during the Nazi era."

Added Howard Spiegler, an expert on restitution law who serves as co-chairman of the international art department at the New York law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, "In general, under American law, one does not get good title to stolen property, even if you are a good-faith purchaser.

"Mrs. Alsdorf could have been a good-faith purchaser and still might not have had good title to the property - those are not inconsistent positions."

In October, FBI agents served Alsdorf with a seizure warrant and a federal restraining order, allowing the Picasso to remain in her possession but under protection of the court. The action was taken after the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles filed a complaint in U.S. District Court, charging that Alsdorf had transported the work across state lines "with knowledge that it was stolen, converted or taken by fraud."

The battle over the painting began in 2001, when Alsdorf, through a California art dealer, sent the Picasso to a prospective buyer in France. But the Parisian art dealer checked the provenance of the work with the Art Loss Register, a London-based clearinghouse for stolen art.

The Art Loss Register determined that the painting had been listed in an extensive 1947 text detailing Nazi-plundered art. In addition, in 1969 the German government acknowledged the theft, paying Bennigson's grandmother 100,000 deutsch marks (about $27,300) in restitution, though that payment had no bearing on the recent litigation.

Alsdorf had begun negotiating with Bennigson's representatives in 2002 but ended discussions on Dec. 18, 2002, the same date Bennigson filed suit against her.

Since then the two sides have been arguing in courts in Chicago and Los Angeles over jurisdiction of the case, not yet its substance.

But court documents detail the path of the painting before, during and after World War II.

Picasso painted "Femme en blanc," a work from his "classic" period, in 1922. Robert and Carlota Landsberg, Jews living in Berlin, purchased it in 1926 or 1927.

But shortly after Kristallnacht, when Nazis and their sympathizers burned synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes in Germany and Austria, in November 1938, the widowed Carlota Landsberg decided to flee with her daughter. She sent the Picasso to French art dealer Justin Thannhauser, who stored it in his Paris home, which was looted by the Nazis.

Thannhauser later wrote to Landsberg, "As I remember very clearly, and as I therefore can confirm to you in writing, in 1938 or 1939 you sent your Painting by Picasso, of a woman, from the so-called classical period of the artist, to me in my house in Paris. At this time, as we were forced to leave our home in Paris in 1939, your Picasso hung in the middle of a small wall. Upon the occupation of Paris in 1940, when we were no longer in Paris and the house was closed, the entire contents of the four-story building - and with it your Painting - were stolen."

After fleeing across Europe, Landsberg arrived in New York in 1940 or 1941 and married Rudolph Bennigson, also a Holocaust survivor, and they had one son: Thomas Bennigson.

Until her death in 1994, Landsberg searched for the painting, unsuccessfully.

Its turbulent past did not resurface until the Art Loss Register began investigating it.

Alsdorf will make payment after the California court enters a consent judgment, expected in November.

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© 2005, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
 

August 10, 2005    E-mail story   Print   Most E-Mailed
Deal reached for art with Nazi ties

By Diane Haithman, Times Staff Writer

As the result of an out-of-court settlement, Bay Area resident Thomas
Bennigson will receive $6.5 million from Marilynn Alsdorf of Chicago for a
Pablo Picasso painting reportedly stolen by the Nazis from Bennigson's
grandmother years before Alsdorf acquired it in 1975.
Additionally, as part of a prior agreement contingent on the settlement,
Bennigson will receive a lesser sum from Stephen Hahn — the art dealer who
sold the painting to Alsdorf and her late husband, James. That sum is to be
equal to the profit Hahn realized on the sale. According to Bennigson's
attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg, Bennigson may also receive some funds from
Los Angeles art dealer David Tunkl, who was planning to exhibit and sell the
painting for Alsdorf in 2002 when he was notified that the Art Loss Register
in London had determined that it had been stolen during the Nazi regime.
  The settlement ends a protracted legal battle over Picasso's 1922 oil
"Femme en blanc" (Woman in White). The dispute began in 2002, when Bennigson
sued to have the painting returned to him.
"I think it's a very good result, an extremely good result," Schoenberg, a
Holocaust claims specialist, said in an interview Tuesday. He said estimates
of the value of the painting range from $6 million to $10 million and added
that Alsdorf "is essentially buying it for a second time from Tom
Bennigson."
A spokesman for the Chicago law firm FagelHaber, which represented Alsdorf,
said the firm had no comment beyond a prepared statement. The statement said
that, although Alsdorf maintained the Picasso was purchased in good faith
and with proper legal title, she agreed to the settlement, reached in
mid-June and announced Tuesday, because of her advanced age and "the need to
resolve financial claims so her commitments to family and charitable
organizations may be completed."
 
 

AUGUST 10, 2005 LITIGATION

Nazi Painting Suit Settles for $6.5 Million

By Lorelei Laird
Daily Journal Staff Writer LOS ANGELES - A dispute over ownership of
a Picasso painting stolen by Nazis, which spawned a lawsuit that spanned
three years and multiple jurisdictions, has settled for $6.5 million.
The settlement allows Marilynn Alsdorf of Chicago, who purchased
Picasso's "Femme en Blanc" for $345,000 in 1976 from a New York art gallery,
to keep the painting.
Tom Bennigson of Oakland sued Alsdorf after Bennigson learned that
his German Jewish grandmother, Carlota Landsberg, owned the painting before
it was stolen by Nazis.
"Mrs. Alsdorf is now essentially buying the painting for a second
time," said E. Randol Schoenberg, attorney for Bennigson. "We're settling
for between 70 and 80 percent of the value of the painting. Given the
uncertainties of litigation, I think that's a good result."
Alsdorf's lawyers, Polly Towill of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton
in Los Angeles and David Rownd of Fagel & Haber in Chicago, could not be
reached for comment late Tuesday.
The settlement was signed Monday, Schoenberg said.
Alsdorf and her husband purchased "Femme en Blanc" from a New York
art dealer. The art world considered the 1922 painting "lost" until 2001.
That's when Alsdorf attempted to sell it, and a potential buyer
checked the Art Loss Register, which contacted Benningson, Landberg's only
heir.
After negotiations to resolve the dispute broke down, Bennigson sued
Alsdorf in Superior Court in Los Angeles, because Alsdorf had shipped the
painting to a local dealer for selling.
Trial judges in Los Angeles ruled that Bennigson must file his suit
in Chicago and a Court of Appeal panel agreed.
An appeal of that decision was pending with the state Supreme Court
when the settlement was reached.
Alsdorf also sued in Illinois federal court to establish ownership
of the work. In October, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles filed a
forfeiture complaint attempting to seize the painting.
U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of Los Angeles ordered
mediation in the case before U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagel, which led
to the settlement.
"It was a tough battle procedurally, but I think the end is correct,
and I think Mrs. Alsdorf should be commended for doing the right thing,"
said Schoenberg of Los Angeles' Burris & Schoenberg.
 

**********
2005 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.
 

$6.5 million settlement ends dispute over Nazi-looted Picasso

By RYAN PEARSON
Associated Press Writer
August 09. 2005 8:45PM

A Chicago woman will settle a legal dispute over her Pablo Picasso painting
by paying $6.5 million to the grandson of a Jewish woman who lost it to
Nazis during World War II, attorneys announced Tuesday.
Marilynn Alsdorf decided she would rather pay Thomas Bennigson of Oakland
than continue a costly and complicated legal dispute over the 1922 oil, her
attorney Richard Chapman said. She will keep the painting, now valued at
more than $12 million, and will be allowed to sell it after the settlement
is approved by a federal judge.
Alsdorf and her late husband bought the painting, known as "Femme en blanc"
(Woman in White), for $375,000 in 1975. It was sitting in the window of a
New York gallery, Chapman said.
"This was a reputable dealer, not a back-alley thing," Chapman said. "She
had no knowledge that there had been any impropriety at all."
When Alsdorf tried to sell the painting in 2002, experts notified the Art
Loss Register in London, which investigated its history.
Bennigson's Jewish grandmother Carlota Landsberg entrusted the painting to a
Paris art dealer for safekeeping when she fled Berlin in the late 1930s.
When Nazis reached Paris, they took the Picasso.
Its whereabouts were unknown until New York art dealer Stephen Hahn
purchased it in France in 1975 and sold it to the Alsdorfs. Hahn recently
settled a separate suit by agreeing to pay Bennigson, Landsberg's only
living heir, an amount equal to his profit from that sale, Bennigson's
attorney E. Randol Schoenberg said.
The federal government in October claimed jurisdiction over Alsdorf case and
custody of the painting, but allowed it to remain in a safe in her home. She
will be allowed to sell it once a judge in Los Angeles determines there are
no additional claims and signs off on the settlement, expected in November.
Chapman said Alsdorf's decision was not based on legal merits of the case.
"It was considering her age and her own personal feelings," he said. "It's
tough when you have to foot the bill of very expensive and long-term
litigation which has tremendous implications."
Schoenberg said Bennigson, who did not return a message seeking comment, was
satisfied.
"It's the right thing," he said. "You like to see in these type of cases
things result without litigation and paintings returned to the prior owners,
but when there's a dispute - and this one was hotly disputed - it's good to
get that type of finality of a settlement."
Legal battles over art stolen by Nazis raise questions over thorny issues
including jurisdiction and whether the owner knew the piece's history.
Chapman claimed French courts should have had jurisdiction, and that under
that legal system Bennigson's claim came too late.
 
 

Metropolitan News-Enterprise
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Page 1
Dispute Over Painting Allegedly Stolen by Nazis Settled

By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer

A dispute over ownership of a Picasso painting allegedly stolen from its rightful owners by Nazis during the occupation of Paris has been resolved, attorneys said yesterday.
The agreement, which was brokered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle in June but kept confidential up to now pending completion of paperwork by the lawyers, puts an end to lawsuits filed in the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara superior courts and the U.S. district courts for the Northern District of Illinois and the Central District of California over the 1922 painting “Femme en blanc.”
Thomas Bennigson, a Boalt Hall graduate living in Oakland, will receive $6.5 million from Chicago philanthropist Marilynn Alsdorf plus an undisclosed sum from New York art dealer Stephen Hahn, Bennigson’s attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg of the Los Angeles firm of Burris & Schoenberg told the MetNews.
In addition, Los Angeles art dealer David Tunkl will pay an undisclosed percentage of his commission to Bennigson if Alsdorf, who gets “incontestable title” to the painting under the agreement, sells it within the next three years.
Alsdorf, according to the agreement, “agreed to the settlement citing her advanced age and the need to resolve financial claims so her commitments to family and charitable organizations may be completed.” The painting has been hanging in Alsdorf’s apartment pending resolution of its ownership.
The 80-year-old Alsdorf “has very personal reasons” for settling, her attorney, Richard Chapman, told the Chicago Tribune.
Bennigson alleged that he was the lawful owner of the painting, which belonged to his late grandmother, Carlota Landsberg. Estimates of its value ranged as high as $10 million.
The complaint alleged that Landsberg sent the painting to a Paris art dealer when she fled Berlin in 1933, but that the Nazis stole it around 1940.
Purchased in New York
Alsdorf and her late husband purchased the painting from Hahn in New York in the late 1970s for more than $350,000. She sent it to Tunkl in December 2001.
Hahn signed an affidavit saying he had no knowledge it was linked to a Nazi looting. Alsdorf argued she had rights to the painting because before she bought it, Hahn purchased it legally from a French dealer.
Bennigson said he did not know the painting existed, or that it had belonged to his grandmother, until the summer of 2002. The source of the information, he said, was The Art Loss Register, an international organization which helps to locate and recover Nazi-looted art for Holocaust victims.
The Art Loss Register allegedly told Tunkl around the same time that Bennigson was the rightful owner, but Tunkl allegedly didn’t tell Alsdorf until Dec. 13, 2002. Alsdorf ordered Tunkl to send the painting back to Chicago that same day, Bennigson claimed.
Schoenberg said earlier that Alsdorf deliberately moved the painting to sidestep a new California law extending the statute of limitations on cases concerning Nazi-looted art. Schoenberg and his client sued in Los Angeles Superior Court, and were on the verge of obtaining a temporary restraining order to keep the painting from being moved at the time.
Forfeiture Action
The controversy took a new turn last fall when the U.S. government filed a forfeiture action here, under a statute dealing with forfeiture of stolen property that has moved in interstate commerce, and served Alsdorf with a warrant for the seizure of the painting. It was subsequently stipulated that Alsdorf could maintain possession until the case was resolved, and an assistant U.S. attorney, John Lee, participated in the settlement talks and signed off on the agreement. 
In April, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper denied Alsdorf’s motion to dismiss the forfeiture action or transfer it to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, where Alsdorf had sued to establish her ownership of the painting.
Cooper said the forfeiture action was properly brought here under traditional principles of in rem jurisdiction, since the U.S. marshal had seized the painting under process issued by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
As part of the settlement, the parties asked the California Supreme Court to vacate its grant of review of the Los Angeles Superior Court action.
The state high court had agreed to decide whether California state courts had jurisdiction in the matter. Div. Eight of this district’s Court of Appeal said they did not, concluding that Alsdorf did not subject herself to California’s jurisdiction by sending the painting to Tunkl’s gallery, where it was on display for eight months.

Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company