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Piet Mondrian Heirs Sue Philadelphia Museum Over Nazi-Looted Work

The heirs of the trust that manages artist Piet Mondrian has sued the Philadelphia Museum of Art over Composition with Blue, reportedly looted by Nazis.

The work in question was made by the Dutch artist in 1926. In 1927, Mondrian handed the work to prominent art dealer Sophie Küppers, who exhibited it in a museum in Hanover, Germany. The museum was later raided by the Nazis in 1937 as the National Socialist party came to power in Germany. By this time, Mondrian had already left the country for London. In 1938, American collector A. E. Gallatin acquired the painting and exhibited it in his Buchholz Gallery. The New York-based gallery later came to be known for its large collection of Nazi-looted artworks.

The above provenance was provided by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which added that Mondrian never object to Gallatin’s acquisition of his painting. Mondrian died in 1944, while Gallatin donated his entire collection (including Composition) to the PMA in 1952.

The lawsuit has been filed by Elizabeth McManus Holtzman Irrevocable Trust, along with the children of Elizabeth Holtzman, and Harry Holtzman. The latter was responsible for sponsoring the immigration of Mondrian into the USA. The complaint argues that since Mondrian died shortly after arriving in the USA, he never knew if he could get his works back. The complaint also adds that Harry Holtzman, who was named the sole heir of Mondrian’s estate, also died shortly later and wasn’t aware of the work’s whereabouts.

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PMA, on the other hand, claims that Holtzman – who died in 1987 – knew of the work and had no objections regarding it. In a statement, the museum said: “[the museum] fully supports restoring artwork looted by the Nazi regime to its rightful owners, and we have done so in the past. [However] the private trust that is suing the Museum has no legitimate claim to Composition with Blue by Piet Mondrian.”