Met Can Keep Picasso Painting Sold During Escape from Nazis After Judge Dismisses Lawsuit

A federal judge in New York on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by the estate of a German Jewish businessman that sought the return of a Pablo Picasso's painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. US district judge Loretta Preska ruled the great-grandniece of Paul Leffmann had failed to show the businessman was forced to sell the painting at a low price for an escape from Nazis and Fascism.

The Actor, painted by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in 1904, is one of the most recognized figures in 20th-century art. Portraying an acrobat in a dramatic pose with an abstract design in the background, the painting is described by the museum as "simple yet haunting".

The original lawsuit was filed in September 2016 by the great-grandniece of Paul Leffmann, Laurel Zuckerman, who also oversees the estate of the businessman. Zuckerman said Leffmann had sold his home and business in Cologne before he fled to Italy in 1937 with his wife. The next year, he sold the painting for US$13,200 to the Paris art dealer Hugo Perls and Picasso's dealer Paul Rosenberg to raise money for their escape from the fascist regime to Switzerland, and finally to Brazil.

Benito Mussolini from the fascist party and Adolf Hiter from Nazi Germany formed alliance during World War II

 A year later, the painting was lent to the Museum of Modern Art and acquired by Thelma Chrysler Foy, the automobile heiress, who later gifted it to the Met in 1952. The painting has been on display since then.

In the 50-page court papers, Judge Preska noted the "economic pressure during the undeniably horrific circumstances of the Nazi and fascist regimes" that Leffmanns must have felt. But she ruled the estate could not show the painting was sold under "duress" as the sale "occurred between private individuals, not at the command of the fascist or Nazi governments."

The Met welcomed the decision and said in a statement that the decision confirmed that the museum is the "rightful owner" of this painting, which will remain on public display for all to enjoy.

The Met said the painting's ownership had never been question until the Leffmann's estimate approaching the museum in 2010, demanding the return of painting and US$100m of damage over The Actor.