National Gallery of Art to return Picasso to heirs of German-Jewish banker
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National Gallery of Art to return Picasso to heirs of German-Jewish banker

Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sold the pastel drawing ‘Head of a Woman,’ at a loss in 1934 because he feared the Nazis would confiscate his estate

The East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, photographed from the West Building. (Wikimedia Commons)
The East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, photographed from the West Building. (Wikimedia Commons)

JTA — The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, will return a drawing by Pablo Picasso to the heirs of a German-Jewish banker who sold the work at a loss because he feared the Nazis would confiscate his estate.

Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a descendant of composer Felix Mendelssohn, sold the pastel work, titled “Head of a Woman,” in 1934, along with at least 15 other significant artworks. He died in 1935.

In 1938, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s family bank, Bank Mendelssohn & Co., founded in 1795, was seized by the Nazis and transferred to non-Jewish ownership.

“Head of a Woman” was sold to art dealer Justin Thannhauser in 1934. The National Gallery of Art acquired the work through a donation in 2001, according to The New York Times.

The museum said it decided to settle with Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s heirs “to avoid the heavy toll of litigation,” not because it agreed that the heirs’ claims were valid, according to the report.

Heirs of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, including his great-nephew, the German scholar Julius Schoeps, also reached settlements in 2009 with the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York over two other Picassos that Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sold to Thannhauser. Those artworks remain in the museum’s collections.

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