As New York museums acknowledge Nazi-looted artwork, possible disagreement is raised

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In the wake of last month’s legislation requiring museums in New York to acknowledge art stolen by Nazis, a possible disagreement over a certain piece has been brought up, according to one report.

In August, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law that requires museums to put up signs identifying pieces that were looted by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945, the Associated Press (AP) reported. 

It is estimated that 600,000 paintings were stolen from Jewish people during World War II, according to a press release from the New York Department of Financial Services.

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Approximately 53 pieces in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art have been identified by the museum as having been taken or sold under duress by the Nazis, according to the museum website. 

Despite the fact that those objects were returned to their rightful owners before they were obtained by the museum, the Met will still put up signs explaining their history, the AP reported.

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Andrea Bayer, the Met’s deputy director for collections and administration told the AP: “People should be aware of the terrible cost to people during World War II as these confiscations took place, and how these peoples’ treasures that they loved and had been in their families, had been torn from them at the same time their lives were disrupted.”

An oil on canvas 1695 painting by Dutch artist Jan Weenix, "Gamepiece with a Dead Heron" – acquired in 1950 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art – is shown on exhibition at the museum. The painting is among 53 works in the museum's collection, once looted during the Nazi era, but returned to their designated owners before being obtained by the museum.

An oil on canvas 1695 painting by Dutch artist Jan Weenix, “Gamepiece with a Dead Heron” – acquired in 1950 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art – is shown on exhibition at the museum. The painting is among 53 works in the museum’s collection, once looted during the Nazi era, but returned to their designated owners before being obtained by the museum.
(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

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The Met told the AP that it does not plan to put up a sign on “The Actor,” a painting by Picasso that the museum received in 1952 as a gift. 

The painting was owned by Jewish businessman Paul Leffmann, who sold the painting for $13,200 in 1938 to a Paris art dealer as he was fleeing Germany, AP reported.

In 2016, Leffmann’s great-grandniece, Laurel Zuckerman, sued the museum for $100 million because the painting was allegedly sold under duress, Reuters reported at the time. 

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A court later dismissed the lawsuit, but Lawrence Kaye, one of the lawyers who represented Zuckerman, told the AP that the Met should still publicly recognize the painting’s disputed past.

“I believe the law would cover this piece,” Kaye told the AP. “It was dismissed on technical grounds and I believe under the broad definition of what this law means under the statute, it should be covered.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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