French sculptor Chana Orloff's family is attempting to recover a statue she made that was stolen by the Nazis.
The family of a French sculptor is seeking the return of a wooden statue that was allegedly stolen by the Nazis in World War II — only to resurface decades later in the US, new court papers show.
In 1921, Chana Orloff made the 3-foot-tall wood-carved figure of her son Elie called “L’Enfant Didi” after his nickname Didi, a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit from Monday says.
But the sculpture vanished more than two decades later during Nazi-sanctioned raids — then turned up in the aughts at Christie’s Auction House, the court documents allege.
In July 1942, Orloff and her son were forced to flee their home in France moving to Switzerland in August of that year, after they were “warned about the imminence of a police round-up” and that “their names were on a list of persons to be arrested,” the court papers explain.
Between 1942 and 1945, “Orloff’s home-studio was the target of multiple confiscations by the Vichy authorities including with respect to Orloff’s sculptures, furniture, paintings and her professional tools,” the court documents allege.
“Nazi forces seized cultural objects and collections belonging to France’s most prominent Jewish families,” the filing says.
The suit says the raids were the result of decrees passed by the Nazis, who invaded France in May 1940, and the Vichy Regime “designed to deprive Jews of their civil, political, and economic rights.”
When Orloff was eventually able to return home — when the Nazi occupation ended —she discovered that “her sculptures, including the statue, had been looted,” the suit alleges.
Orloff never got the piece returned to her before her 1968 death despite her best efforts, the filing claims.
The statue is listed on the FBI’s National Stolen Art database.
In 2008, Orloff’s family, who live in France, learned that the statue was in the US and in possession of a man name Jose Arias — after he’d sent Orloff’s granddaughter Ariane Tamir an email asking for information about the piece, the suit says.
This tipped the family off to the fact that the piece might be auctioned, according to the filing.
In further emails, Arias told Tamir that the statue “came on the market in New York in 2007 with no history or provenance,” the filing claims.
The piece was allegedly put on auction at Christie’s in February 2008 by Arias, another man named Martin Cohen — who has since died — and a third person that the suit referred to as “John Doe.”
When Christie’s reached out to Tamir, she informed them “that the statue had been stolen during World War II and demanded that the statue be removed from any future sale,” the court papers say.
Christie’s withdrew the work from auction and is still currently holding it, the court papers allege.
“There were several attempts to negotiate a settlement between 2008 and 2021, and all of these attempts were unsuccessful,” the suit claims.
The family earlier this month also brought a case against Christie’s and Arias in Paris Judicial Court, the suit explains.
The family is asking a New York judge to force Arias to return the piece “immediately” to them.
A spokesperson for Christie’s — which is not named as a defendant in the most recent suit — said they’ve “held the work in secure storage since 2008 so that the parties involved could resolve the underlying title claim.”
“In keeping with our clear policy on restitution issues, Christie’s will continue to hold the work while these proceedings continue in the appropriate jurisdiction.”
Arias could not be reached for comment.