Lord Lloyd-Webber foundation settles Nazi confiscation dispute over £33m Picasso
Lord Lloyd Webber’s art charity last night settled a three year old dispute over a £33 million Picasso painting with a German professor who had claimed one of his forebears had been forced to sell it by the Nazis.
The multi-millionaire British composer had been due to sell The Absinthe Drinker at Christie’s in New York in November 2006 and donate the proceeds to his charity, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation.
However a judge halted the sale on the eve of the auction after Professor Julius Schoeps claimed Paul Von Mendelssohn Bartholdy, a Jewish banker from Berlin, had sold the painting in 1934 as a "consequence of Nazi persecution".
Mr Von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, the nephew of the composer Felix Mendelssohn, had been effectively coerced into selling the Picasso in a depressed art market, along with his collection of Van Gogh, Manet and Picasso paintings, before he died in 1935.
Last night both sides announced that the long running dispute, which has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees as it went through the US courts, had been settled. The terms of the deal were confidential.
A spokesman for the composer's foundation said the trustees were “pleased” that “Professor Julius Schoeps and all other heirs of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Elsa von Kesselstatt have settled and relinquished any and all claims of title” to the painting.
Prof Schoeps and his family said in a statement: “The terms of the settlement are confidential in their entirety. The heirs now relinquish any and all claims of title to this painting.
“For the first time ever, a US court recognized that victims of Nazi persecution who lost artworks and perhaps other materials as a result of Nazi duress and pressure have a viable judicial remedy to reclaim their property without needing to establish that Nazi authorities seized it directly or ordered a particular sale.
“The Mendelssohn heirs are gratified to have participated in a case that expands dramatically the potential opportunities of Holocaust victims and heirs to recover property wrongfully taken from them.”
The settlement will clear the way for a sale of the masterpiece, with all the funds benefiting Lord Lloyd-Webber's foundation.
Picasso had painted Angel Fernandez de Soto, a Barcelona anarchist, in 1903 sitting at a table with a half-empty glass of absinthe.
Lord Lloyd-Webber had always insisted that he had “purchased the picture in good faith in 1995” for £19.3million at Sotheby’s.
At the time it was the highest price paid for a painting at auction in five years and the highest ever paid for a Picasso.
The painting was then exhibited several times at the National Gallery, and Royal Academy of Arts in London. However since the dispute blew up it was hung privately by Lord Lloyd-Webber as galleries refused to display it.
In November The Daily Telegraph revealed that Lord Lloyd-Webber had paid out nearly £1.5million from his art charity to HM Revenue and Customs to settle a long running dispute over a gift aid claim on a 19th century masterpiece.
The multi-millionaire composer has also quit the board of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation, brought in four new trustees and set up a new standalone website following the settlement further clarifying the separation between his personal interests and those of the charity.
The charity’s accounts show that it paid out £2.3million in legal and professional fees in 2007 and 2008 fighting the Picasso claim and the gift aid case.
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