Case of looted Picasso may be headed to Chicago

The Chicago Tribune 14 March 2003
Howard Reich

The legal battle over ownership of a $10 million Picasso masterpiece looted by the Nazis during World War II may shift from Los Angeles to Chicago if a tentative ruling issued Thursday by a California judge becomes final and survives appeals.

The dispute centers on Picasso's 1922 oil painting "Femme en blanc" ("Woman in White"), which was stolen by the Nazis from a Paris art dealer's home in 1942, bought by Chicago collectors James and Marilynn Alsdorf from a New York art dealer in 1975 and pursued in Los Angeles County Superior Court last December, when an heir of the original owner sued for its return.

Since then, Chicago art philanthropist Marilynn Alsdorf and the original owner's heir, Oakland-based Thomas Bennigson, have disagreed on where the civil case should be tried.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victor Person offered a glimpse of his legal reasoning in Thursday's tentative ruling:

"The court does not have general jurisdiction over Alsdorf, an Illinois resident who does not have extensive or systematic and continuous contacts with the state of California," Person wrote.

The plaintiff's claim "does not arise out of Alsdorf's contacts with California; rather, the claim arises because of the Nazis' theft of the painting from France during World War II, and Alsdorf's (and her husband's) purchase of that painting from an art gallery in New York in the 1970s," he wrote.

James Alsdorf died in 1990.

Bennigson's attorney, Holocaust-claims specialist E. Randol Schoenberg, plans to appeal if the decision becomes final.
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