Descendants of Greta Moll Threaten to Sue National Gallery Over Stolen Matisse Painting

The National Gallery continues to reject the return claim.

Henri Matisse Portrait of Greta Moll (1908). Photo: National Gallery, London.

The descendants of the original owner of a portrait by Henri Matisse have threatened London’s National Gallery with legal action after the museum rejected a return request filed by the family’s attorney.

The painting was commissioned by Oskar Moll, the husband of the subject, Greta Moll, in 1908 after the couple befriended Matisse in Paris.

After decades in private ownership the painting was acquired by the National Gallery in 1979, two years after Greta Moll’s death. The painting is currently in storage at the Tate, where it has been on loan since 1997.

Now her descendants want the artwork back, claiming that the work was stolen and sold without permission by a family friend who took it to Switzerland for safekeeping shortly after the war.

Oskar and Greta Moll befriended Matisse after participating in a painting course at his Paris studio. Photo: Alvin Langdon Coburn via Wikimedia Commons

Oskar and Greta Moll befriended Matisse after participating in a painting course at his Paris studio.
Photo: Alvin Langdon Coburn via Wikimedia Commons

“The Moll family is considering all of its options including the possibility of filing suit to recover the painting” family attorney David Rowland told told the Guardian.

“What you have here is a very prominent stolen artwork which is being kept by a very public museum, the National Gallery, which has a wonderful reputation, but it happens to have now a stolen artwork […] that it doesn’t want to return to the family that lost it.”

Rowland added, “We think that it is improper for public museums to hold misappropriated/stolen artworks in their collections and that there is both an ethical and legal obligation to return misappropriated/stolen art to its original owners and their heirs. The same principle of course applies even more so to art lost in the Nazi era and its immediate aftermath, as is the case here.”

The National Gallery, London. Photo Andrew Newdigate via Flickr.

The National Gallery, London.
Photo Andrew Newdigate via Flickr.

The National Gallery however denies any wrongdoing arguing that the theft was never proven and even if it was it would be under no obligation to return it.

“The gallery would not, even if the theft were proved, be under any obligation to return the painting to the family […] The gallery is in fact prohibited from making transfers of paintings in its collection,” a museum spokesman said, maintaining the institution’s tough stance. “The gallery remains—by virtue of the purchase in 1979—the legal owner of the painting which it holds for the nation.”


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