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Amedeo Modigliani, Man Seated With a Cane, 1918
Amedeo Modigliani, Man Seated With a Cane, 1918

NAHMADS: WE DON’T OWN CONTESTED MODIGLIANI

Mar. 5, 2012

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Behind every billionaire art dynasty is a good lawyer. New York’s Helly Nahmad Gallery, which is headed up by the son of supercollector David Nahmad and cousin of the London-based dealer also named Helly Nahmad, was sued in October by Philippe Mastraecci, who is seeking the return of an Amedeo Modigliani painting, Man Seated With a Cane (1918), that he says was looted by Nazis from his grandfather, Oscar Stettiner, in 1944. But now the Nahmads have put a legal kink in Mastraecci’s suit -- they say they never owned it.

According to the Art Newspaper, the Nahmads claim that the painting actually belongs to an organization called the International Art Center, based in Geneva, and that Mastraecci is simply suing the wrong people, in the wrong country. The work emerged at auction at Christie’s London in 1996 -- without any apparent provenance issues -- and was purchased for $3.2 million by the center, the Nahmads say, not them. And when the gallery showed the painting as part of a Modigliani exhibition in 2005? It was on loan.

Mastraecci’s lawyers shot back that the “International Art Center is an offshore entity used by the Nahmad defendants as an instrumentality to hold their interests in works, around 90 percent of which are held in an art storage facility at the free port of Geneva,” where the Nahmads store their $3 to $4 billion art collection. In court papers, they stated that the “IAC is controlled by Helly and David Nahmad.”

Nahmad is asking the court to dismiss the suit.

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