An angry Frenchman is suing the Metropolitan Museum of Art over their Paul Cézanne painting Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory. He says the painting, which they acquired in 1960, rightfully belongs to his family. The museum does not agree. The 1891 masterpiece, valued between $50 and $70 million dollars, was a bequest to the museum from Stephen C. Clark (an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune). But Parisian Pierre Konowaloff argues it was never rightfully his to give away in the first place.
Clark bought the portrait of the artist's wife in 1933 from Moscow's Museum of Modern Western Art, but Konowaloff argues that museum was essentially his great-grandfather's modern art collection which had been seized on Lenin's orders in 1918 (the Bolsheviks, still making the news!). Further, he claims the sale was “in violation of Russian law and U.S. policy” because it occurred before the U.S. diplomatically recognized Soviet Russia. The family is only suing now because it was not fully aware of what it was missing until recently .
The Met, which lists its version of the work's provenance here, thinks it is in the right: “The Museum firmly believes it has good title to the painting and that this lawsuit is totally without merit,” a spokesman said.
This isn't Konowaloff's only art-related lawsuit. He is also suing Yale University over Van Gogh's The Night Cafe, which he also claims Stephen Clark obtained illegally.