The artwork was sold under duress in Nazi Germany due to the Nazis persecution of Jews, known as preditation.
It is now in the possession of the German State of Bavaria, according to court papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Manhattan.
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was a prominent Jewish banker, known for his wealth and social standing in pre-World War II Germany. He was part of the Mendelssohn dynasty, which included famed composer Felix Mendelssohn and Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.
The Mendelssohn & Co. bank was established in 1795 and grew to become one of the five largest private banks in Germany. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was targeted by the Nazi regime as part of their campaign to rid Germany of Jewish influence.
Mendelssohn-Barthtoldy was stripped of his 22 percent equity interest in Mendelssohn & Co. by new Nazi policies, which forced him to sell his extensive art collection to raise money to live. At the time, his collection included 60 works by Picasso, van Gogh, Braque, Mone, Renoir and other well-known artists.
He was forced to sell 16 paintings under duress including Picasso’s “Madame Soler,” painted in 1903 during the artist’s “blue period.”
In 1964, the Bavarian State Paintings Collection (BSPC) bought the painting in New York City from the same art dealer, Justin Thannhauser, who had taken the painting off Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s hands in 1934.
At the time, the director of the BSPC was Halldor Soehner, a former Nazi party member, whom the heirs allege was aware the painting had once belonged to the Jewish banker, a statement from the family says.
The family first asked for the restitution for the painting in 2009, but the BSPC refused to even acknowledge the claim or submit it to the German Limbach Commission, which oversees restitution for artworks taken by the Nazis during the Third Reich.
The rejection provided the basis for the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, according to the law firm handling the case, Byrne Goldenberg & Hamilton, PLLC in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit is based on a previous case, Julius H. Schoeps, et al. v. Museum of Modern Art, 594 F. Supp.2d 461, 466 (S.D.N.Y. 2009).
The case, also filed the family, involved two other Mendelssohn paintings: Pablo Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” (1905-1906), then in the possession of the Museum of Modern Art, and Picasso’s “Le Moulin de la Galette” (1900), then owned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection.
The case was settled for $5 million.