An Amedeo Modigliani painting worth as much as $25 million was reportedly seized this week from a unit at Rodolphe Haller SA, a Geneva self-storage facility specializing in fine art. Swiss authorities raided multiple facilities as part of a criminal investigation into the ownership of “Seated Man with a Cane,” which Modigliani painted in 1918. The artwork was originally stolen by Nazis from Paris art dealer Oscar Stettiner during World War II but was never recovered by the family.
When Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca leaked millions of pages of documents last week known as the “Panama Papers,” the current ownership of the Modigliani work was disclosed as being the International Art Center (IAC), an investment firm owned by art collector David Nahmad, according to a “Bloomberg” report.
Stettiner’s grandson, Philippe Maestracci reportedly tried to sue the Nahmad family in 2011, but the suit was withdrawn when the family denied a connection to the artwork, claiming it was owned independently by IAC, according to “The Art Newspaper.” The Stettiner estate sued again in 2014, claiming IAC was an offshore entity used by the Nahmad family to hold their art investments, most of which are stored in the Geneva storage facility, according to “Bloomberg.”
“This is a major victory for our client in his year’s long struggle to recover a valuable work of art he rightfully owns,” said James Palmer, founder of Mondex Corp., the Toronto-based art-recovery firm acting on behalf of the Stettiner estate. In a released statement, Palmer indicated the current ownership of the painting is “illegal,” and Mondex will work with Swiss authorities to recover the artwork, “returning it to its owner.”
Court filings indicate IAC acquired the work at a 1996 auction at Christie’s in London for $3.2 million. It was exhibited in 2005 at the Helly Nahmad Gallery and offered at auction in 2008 by Sotheby’s but failed to sell, according to “Bloomberg.” Sotheby’s valued the painting at between $18 million and $25 million.
According to Maestracci’s lawsuit, Stettiner left the painting behind when he fled Paris in November 1939. His art gallery closed in 1940, and the Germans auctioned the work in 1944. Stettiner subsequently filed a claim in 1946 but apparently couldn’t find the artwork. The lawsuit also claims the auction sale from Christie’s was allegedly done with inaccurate provenance, “Bloomberg” reported.
Rodolphe Haller is a storage and transportation business dating back to the 1930s. It became active in moving and storing fine art in the 1970s and specializes in secure, climate-controlled units, according to the company website. The company operates about 12,000 square meters of “secured storage” between its facilities in Geneva and Luxembourg.
- Bloomberg: Modigliani With Nazi Links Sparks Geneva Criminal Probe
- Rodolphe Haller: Website
- The Art Newspaper: Swiss Authorities Reportedly Seize Modigliani Painting After Panama Papers Revelation