MoMA returns valuable Chagall painting with disputed origins

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In 2021, New York’s Museum of Modern Art returned a valuable 1913 Marc Chagall painting to the heirs of a prominent German gallerist, settling a legal claim over the disputed ownership of the work.

Although the withdrawal had occurred some time ago, it was not known until A new York Times report On court records related to an ongoing legal dispute between the heirs and an outside research firm.

As part of the deal in 2021, the museum received a fee of $4 million in exchange for Chagall’s return over Vitebsk (1913). The museum agreed to use the money to establish a provenance research fund in the name of the original owner, but did not announce the establishment of the fund until recently.

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The work’s heirs, descendants of German gallerist Francis Matthiessen, are now in a separate legal dispute over the terms of the work’s return with Mondex Corporation, a restoration research firm based in Toronto, which was appointed to liaise with MoMA for research on the matter. Has been appointed for. Court records reviewed by Times. Mathieson’s heirs first approached Mondex in 2018 to work on the dispute.

The heirs are stakeholders in the Berlin-based Galerie Matthiessen. They claim the Canadian firm breached their contract by excluding them from negotiations with MoMA over a $4 million compensation fee, alleging they never approved the payment. According to the heirs, Mondex is not entitled to the $8.5 million fee stipulated in the contract between them.

James Palmer, founder of Mondex Corporation, denied that the fee was improperly negotiated. He did not respond immediately ARTnewsRequest for additional comments.

The financial arrangement in the Chagall settlement is not uncommon in high-profile restitution cases, where the proceeds from a sale are divided between heirs and owners who contest the legal title of artworks with dubious provenance.

The Chagall painting, which depicts an elderly man holding a stick while flying over the city of Vitebsk, has a complicated ownership record. According to its publicly listed provenance, it was transferred in 1934 during the Nazi occupation to Germany’s Dresner Bank, which, according to the gallery’s website, “acquired it in a forced sale” and a year later transferred it to the Berlin Nationalgalerie. Shown. MoMA purchased the work privately in 1949.

The details of the sale of the work to Dresner are still being disputed by researchers. A 2017 book by researcher Lynn Rother titled art for creditRegarding the role of art being used as loan collateral during World War II, it has been said that there is no evidence that Chagall was seized under duress, and that by Matthiessen’s gallery The conversation was done voluntarily.

Between 2018 and 2021, Mondex presented MoMA with additional research, arguing that the transfer of paintings and other artworks from the gallery was done under duress in order to settle a bank loan, as the bank significantly undervalued them. Was.

In 2021, after acquiring the work from the museum, the gallery sold it for $24 million to a European collector, whose identity has not been disclosed. Upon listing the work for private sale, the gallery suggested in press materials that the painting depicted a Russian diaspora, which was “relevant at a time when stories of displacement and ethnic identity have such media currency.”

The sale is one of the highest prices ever announced for a work by Chagall. His auction record, set in 2017, currently stands at $28.5 million.

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