The 5 Most Controversial Legal Battles Over Art
by in Most Influential

4. Maestracci v. Nahmad- Art Restitution Case, 2011

In 2011, billionaire art dealer Helly Nahmad was sued for allegedly withholding a painting that did not belong to him. The Amedeo Modigliani original, “Seated Man with Cane”, is valued at 25 million dollars and was one of thousands of pieces of artwork seized during the Nazi regime.

The painting’s original owner was Jewish gallery owner Oscar Stettiner, who had to flee from Paris during the Nazi invasion. His Modigliani was confiscated and sold at auction in 1944 by the Nazis. Throughout the years, as Stettiner’s family members died, grandson Philippe Maestracci inherited the painting. Maestracci discovered that Helly Nahmad (son of art dealer and billionaire David Nahmad) was in possession of the Modigliani in 2008 and made several written attempts to retrieve the painting from him but received no reply. Nahmad’s lawyers claim that the painting is owned by an unaffiliated organization, the International Art Center. Maestracci’s lawyers, however, insist that the center is an instrumentality owned and operated by the Nahmad family.

The art center’s holdings are worth an estimated 3 to 4 billion dollars. Nahmad’s lawyers contest all accusations and claim that Helly Nahdmad has never possessed the painting. The case is open and ongoing.

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