NEW YORK (AP) – A judge on Monday temporarily blocked the highly anticipated auction of one of Pablo Picasso’s works worth up to $60 million while he decides if a wealthy Berlin banker of Jewish descent was forced to sell the painting by the Nazis during World War II.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff issued the order three days after Julius H. Schoeps, an heir to banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, filed a lawsuit in Manhattan to stop the sale of “Portrait de Angel Fernandez de Soto” by an art foundation started by Broadway musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

He blocked the sale at least until a hearing this morning.

The lawsuit to stop the sale of the painting of Angel Fernandez de Soto, scheduled for Wednesday at Christie’s auction house in Manhattan, was filed under seal on Friday and was unsealed Monday. The painting of de Soto, who shared a studio with Picasso, was to be sold by the Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation, a London-based charity.

In the lawsuit, Schoeps sought to be declared the lawful owner of the painting and for the foundation to be forced to turn it over as restitution.

Christie’s said the painting, estimated to sell for between $40 million and $60 million, was being sold by the foundation for income to be spent on a variety of charitable purposes.

Christie’s had not seen the lawsuit by late Monday and would not speculate it, spokesman Toby Usnik said.

According to the lawsuit, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born in 1875 in Berlin to a famous Jewish family that included a composer, Felix Mendelssohn, and a philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn.

By the time the Nazis came to power in January 1933, the Mendelssohn & Co. bank, started by the family in 1795, had become one of the largest private banks in Germany.

Mendelssohn-Bartholdy owned one of the great European private art collections, including many paintings by Picasso, van Gogh, Renoir and Monet, and never sold a piece before Adolf Hitler rose to power, the lawsuit said.

Hitler targeted Mendelssohn-Bartholdy for persecution, the lawsuit said, in part because the Nazis blamed private Jewish-owned banks for the fall of Germany’s economy and the loss of World War I.

Before his death in 1935, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was subjected to Nazi intimidation, pressure and such a loss of fortune that he was forced to flee his mansion and begin selling prized paintings into a depressed art market, the lawsuit said.

In October 1934, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy placed on consignment for sale with Berlin art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser the de Soto painting and four other Picasso pieces, including “Head of a Woman” and “Boy Leading a Horse.”

In September 1936, Thannhauser sold the painting to M. Knoedler & Co. in New York City. Since the sale, the painting has been in the New York art market for about 50 years. It was sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in 1995 to Webber, the lawsuit said.

The oil-on-canvas painting, signed and dated in 1903, was described in a Christie’s catalog as capturing de Soto’s haunting face with heavy features.

“The elegantly dressed sitter appears to scrutinize the viewer with an intense gaze, his inner agitation suggested by the forceful brushstrokes and the cloud of smoke hovering above him,” said the catalog for the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale.


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