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A federal judge in Los Angeles has declined to order the return of an Impressionist painting to the relatives of a Jewish woman who was forced to sell the work for $360 to a Nazi art appraiser in 1939.

The ruling came after a decade-long dispute over ownership of the 1897 canvas, “Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie,” a Paris street scene by Pissarro, which is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. The judge, John F. Walter of United States District Court, rejected a claim by relatives of the woman, Lilly Cassirer, who sued the museum and Spain seeking to have the painting turned over to them or to be awarded damages.

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The insurance company Lloyd's has claimed in court that it won't pay for an insured Edgar Degas sculpture, purported to be worth $3 million, which disappeared in shady circumstances, "Daily News" reports.

“The claim of the loss of Degas bronze results from theft or dishonesty by a person to whom the insured property was entrusted," the insurance giant said in a Manhattan Supreme Court complaint. “Accordingly, the [Degas bronze] claim falls within exclusion of the policy."

Although the insurance policy covered losses until August 2014, exclusions applied in cases of “mysterious disappearance or unexplained loss," which seem to fit the description of the circumstances in which Degas' "La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans" vanished.

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The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, urged a leading Spanish museum to return a painting that the Nazis stole from a Jewish art collector.

Lauder, in a statement issued on Friday, called on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, which is owned by the Spanish state, to stop its legal fight to keep the Impressionist masterpiece “Rue Saint-Honoré, après-midi, effet de pluie,” which the Nazis stole from Lilly Cassirer, a German Jew seeking to flee her homeland in 1939.

The painting was purchased from the painter Camille Pissarro by Lilly Cassirer’s father-in-law, Julius. Her late grandson, Claude, sued for restitution in 2005 in a claim he filed with the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

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Wednesday, 03 July 2013 13:59

Andy Warhol Foundation Ends Lengthy Legal Battle

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has ended a six-year clash with its insurer Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company, recovering almost $6.6 million in legal fees. The battle between the foundation and its insurer began over authentication issues and snowballed to include the repayment of related legal fees.

The dispute began in 2007 when art collector Joe Simon-Whelan sued the foundation’s authentication branch for alleged fraud and conspiracy relating to the purchase of his 1965 Andy Warhol self-portrait, which he paid approximately $200,000 for in 1989 and was later deemed inauthentic. Another collector, Susan Shaer, filed a similar suit again the foundation in 2010 bringing the legal fees doled out to nearly $7 million.

According to a statement released by the foundation, “both suits alleged an absurd scheme to manipulate the prices for Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) artwork yet [they] were forced to dismiss their claims in late 2010…The Foundation’s insurers nevertheless refused to reimburse the Foundation for its legal costs incurred in defending these bogus suits, alleging that the Foundation’s insurance policies did not cover claims of this nature.” The funds have since been repaid by Philadelphia Indemnity and transferred to the foundation’s endowment.

The Andy Warhol Foundation was established in 1987 following the artist’s sudden death. The organization’s mission is to support the creation, presentation and documentation of contemporary visual art.

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The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) filed papers in federal court this week arguing that a painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), which was found in a Virginia flea market in 2012, legally belonged to the institution. On the Shore of the Seine (1879) a small landscape painting, had been stolen while it was on view as part of an exhibit at the museum in 1951. A Virginia woman later purchased the work from the flea market for $7, allegedly unaware of the work’s distinguished provenance.

The documents filed on Tuesday, June 4, 2013 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, VA, claim that no one except the BMA can legally own the Renoir because it belonged to the institution before it was stolen. The buyer of On the Shore of the Seine, Martha Fuqua, has filed her own court papers stating that she deserves to hold on to the painting because she was unaware that the Renoir had been stolen and was subject to FBI forfeiture when she acquired it. Suspicions have surrounded Fuqua’s claim, as her mother is a painter who specializes in reproducing artworks and three friends of Fuqua have come forward saying that they remembered seeing the painting in her home and studio.

After the museum reported On the Shore of the Seine stolen, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. paid the institution a $2,500 claim. The company has assured the BMA that it will return the painting to the museum if a judge determines that they are the rightful owners.

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A federal judge will settle an ownership dispute over a Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) painting that was purchased at a flea market in West Virginia for $7. The FBI is currently holding the painting until the argument is settled.

Marcia “Martha” Fuqua claims to have purchased the painting in 2009 and subsequently stored it in a trash bag until she had the work authenticated two years later. After learning that the painting was an authentic Renoir, Fuqua planned to sell the work at auction; it was expected to garner around $75,000. However, Fuqua’s plan was foiled when documents from the Baltimore Museum of Art surfaced, revealing that the painting had been stolen in 1951. It was later determined that an insurer, the Fireman’s Fund, paid a $2,500 claim on the theft; the insurer is now battling Fuqua for ownership of the painting.

Paysage bords de Seine (1879) is believed to have been painted by Renoir on the spot for his mistress. An appraiser hired by the FBI estimated the painting’s worth at approximately $22,000, considerably less than Fuqua’s appraisal as concerns regarding the painting’s ownership and possible theft have lowered its value.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered Fuqua and the Fireman’s Fund to make their cases in written pleas later this month. The FBI is still investigating the case.

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Monday, 25 February 2013 13:27

Disgraced Knoedler Gallery Hit with New Lawsuit

Prominent Canadian art collector David Mirvish filed a lawsuit on Friday, February 22, 2013 against the disgraced New York-based art gallery, Knoedler & Company. Since closing its doors in late 2011, Knoedler & Company has been accused by multiple clients of selling forged paintings, which were acquired by the gallery from Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales. Mirvish’s is the fifth lawsuit against Knoedler since 2011.

However, Mirvish’s claim is slightly different than its predecessors. While the other lawsuits accused Knoedler of passing off fake Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), and Mark Rothko (1903-1970) paintings as the real deal, Mirvish claims that the works he purchased from the gallery were authentic. Instead, Mirvish is arguing that he lost out on millions of dollars in profits when Knoedler failed to sell three Jackson Pollock masterpieces he purchased jointly with the gallery.

Between 2002 and 2007 Mirvish purchased two paintings attributed to Pollock and bough a half stake in a third for $1.6 million. The sole purpose of Mirvish’s dealings with Knoedler was to resell the works for a profit. One of the Pollock paintings sold to collector and hedge fund manager Pierre Lagrange for $17 million in 2007, but in 2011, the day before Knoedler shut down, Lagrange announced that he would be filing a lawsuit against the gallery as forensic testing suggested the painting was a fake. The Lagrange suit was eventually settled but Mirvish was not involved and refused to return the money he made off of the deal.

Mirvish is now seeking reparations for the two unsold Pollocks, claiming that Knoedler breached its agreement when the gallery suddenly went out of business. Mirvish is asking Knoedler to return the two paintings, referred to as “Greenish Pollock” and “Square Pollock,” as well as reimburse him for his $1.6 million stake in the third painting, referred to as “Silver Pollock.” Even though Mirvish only paid Knoedler $3.25 million, half of “Greenish Pollock” and “Square Pollock’s” purchase prices, he claims that Knoedler’s violation of contract entitles him to both paintings.

Nicholas Gravante, the lawyer of Knoedler’s former president, Ann Freeman, is representing Mirvish. Freeman is not named as a defendant in Mirvish’s case and she has maintained that all works acquired from Rosales are genuine. Rosales is currently under investigation by the F.B.I.    

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In 2006 The Cardsharps was sold to the late collector and scholar Sir Denis Mahon for just over $65,000 at an auction at Sotheby’s in London. At the time of the sale, Sotheby’s identified the work as being by a “follower” of the Italian master, Caravaggio (1571-1610). However, after his purchase, Mahon identified the work as a Caravaggio original and obtained an export license for the work that put its value at $15.5 million according to a claim filed at London’s High Court of Justice.

Due to their failure to identify The Cardsharps as an authentic Caravaggio painting, Sotheby’s is being sued by Lancelot William Thwaytes, who consigned the work to the 2006 auction. Thwaytes is now seeking unspecified damages, interest, and costs relating to the price difference between the painting’s 2006 selling price and what he believes it was actually worth on the open market that year had it been properly attributed to Caravaggio. Thwaytes claims that Sotheby’s was negligent in its research prior to the work’s sale, leading to its extraordinarily low selling price.

However, Sotheby’s stands behind its belief that the painting is a copy and not a work by Caravaggio’s hand, citing Caravaggio expert Professor Richard Spear and several other leading scholars. Sotheby’s added that their view was supported by the market’s reception to the painting when it was put up for auction.

Mahon, who passed away in 2011, donated 58 works from his collection worth around $155 million to various U.K. galleries.

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State Farm Insurance is suing French art dealer Alfred DeSimone for either discarding or losing an original lithograph by the colorful French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). The lost work, Artistide Bruant Dans Son Cabaret, 1893, was part of a series of three posters used to promote French cabaret singer and comedian Artistide Bruant (1851-1925) around Paris in the late 1800s. The lithograph remains one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s most recognizable images.

State Farm is seeking $103,000 in damages from DeSimone for the centuries-old lithograph, which was bought by the insurance company’s client, Thomas Rosensteel, in 2006. Rosensteel purchased the work as an investment, but never ended up hanging it. While looking for a buyer, Rosensteel gave the lithograph to DeSimone for safekeeping, agreeing to pay him a fee once the work was sold. Rosentsteel found a buyer in 2010 and when he went to pick up the work from DeSimone, it was missing. DeSimone claims that the lithograph may have been put in a mailing tube and either sent to someone else or discarded. Rosensteel filed an insurance claim with State Farm who paid $103,109 to him; the company is now seeking compensation for the claim.

DeSimone, who has been experiencing financial troubles, has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing in the Toulouse-Lautrec case. A judge will review the lawsuit on April 25, 2013.

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