The great-grandson of the onetime German-Jewish owner of Edvard Munch’s masterpiece “The Scream” is reportedly pushing his family’s claim to the $120 million painting as the Museum of Modern Art prepares to put it on display.
Rafael Cardoso, a Brazilian curator and descendant of banker Hugo Simon, says his great grandfather was forced to ditch the treasure when he was driven from Germany after the Nazis came to power in 1933, the New York Post reported.
“He was living under direct threat to his life,” Cardoso told the paper.
New York’s famed MoMA will unveil an exhibit including the Munch masterpiece next week.
Relatives of Simon came forward to push their claim to the artwork, which they claim is a Nazi-looted asset, when the 1895 painting was sold at a Sotheby’s auction this spring.
Billionaire Leon Black, a trustee of MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bought the pastel piece for $119.9 million, the highest price ever paid for a work at auction.
The dispute again focuses attention on the issue of looted artwork, which some advocates say has seen major museums drag their feet.
MoMA has not returned any such artwork since 2001, when it says it started looking into various claims that pieces in its collection for works that might have been stolen from victims of Nazi terror.
It had signed a deal saying it would seek a “just and fair solution” for disputed art, but advocates say it has fought Jewish claims to pieces in court. Other top museums have also resisted claims by former Jewish art owners, perhaps out of fear of opening a deluge of new claims.
As he fled for his life with his family, Simon, a top collector, consigned ‘The Scream’ to a Swiss gallery. It’s not known if he was compensated and the artwork wound up in the hands of a Norweigian family.
Simon and his family escaped to Paris and eventually to Brazil, where he died in 1950.
Despite the murky history, Cardoso believes it is self-evident that the looming Holocaust prevented Simon from keeping the painting.
“The subject was never talked about by my grandparents, but we always knew they had been very rich and lost everything,” Cardoso, who is now in Berlin researching Simon for a book, told the Post.