Suit to Follow: preemptive court declaration sought for Renoir
October 25, 2011
The title to Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Paysage de Cagnes” is now being challenged after hanging on the wall of a home in Lake Forest, Illinois for over 50 years. The Korhumels proudly displayed their painting after purchasing it from the Hammer Galleries in New York in 1956. The executor of the couple’s estate began talks with Christie’s at the beginning of this year about the possibility of selling certain items in the estate, including the Renoir, through the auction house. In April 2011, Christie’s expressed concern about the provenance of the work in a letter, withdrew it from the auction catalogue, and refused to return it to the estate.
On August 15, 2011, a lawsuit was filed in the Illinois Northern District Court, seeking a declaratory order that the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Korhumel is lawful owner of the work. The suit states that heirs of Richard Semmel, a German Jewish textile mogul, are alleging that Semmel once owned the work. If true, Semmel may have been forced to sell the work in order to flee the Nazis. There are records of Semmel selling a large part of his art collection to a Dutch auction house in 1933. In anticipation of a suit for restitution of the work, the Korhumel estate filed this preemptive suit to quiet title.
This is the first time title to the work has been questioned. However, Art News reports the representative for the heirs, who remain unnamed, as stating that the painting was registered as part of the Semmel collection at the Art Loss Register. According to an article in September in the ArtEconomist, the representative “isn’t sure whether his clients have any legal basis to force the painting’s return.” However, the representative maintains “his clients are the rightful owners of the Renoir, one of the works textile manufacturer Richard Semmel sacrificed when he fled Germany in 1933.”