Company Capitalizes on Art Restitution

Toronto -- Nazi art restitution is a growth area in law, as the art market is the most lucrative unregulated market after narcotics.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network understand the painstaking ordeal of recovering art loot.

Several aggressive companies have cropped up in recent years dealing with this industry. Mondex is one of these companies.

Made up of husband and wife team, James Palmer and Yelena Yavorska, this elusive Canadian company engage lawyers and accountants specializing in probate issues, finding lost heirs and missing birth parents. They also track down art, stolen by the Nazis.

Success Stories

Recently, they secured the restitution of two pictures from the National Collection of the Netherlands to the heir of a Holocaust victim: the Dutch Golden Age paintings, Amsterdam Town Hall by Gerrit Berckheyde and View of a Dutch Harbour with Figures by Adam Willaerts.

On a less successful note, since 2011 Mondex has attempted to secure the return of the Modigliani masterpiece "Seated Man with a Cane", which is 'allegedly' held in storage in Switzerland, by a company belonging to the prominent art-dealing family of David Nahmad.

Nahmad failed to sell the painting at Sotheby's in 2008, and ownership is now in dispute.

Messy Modigliani

The Modigliani, shown here, is currently being challenged in a New York court by Mondex on behalf of Phillippe Maestracci, heir and grandson of the Parisian Jew art and antiques dealer, Oscar Stettiner.

Lawyers for Maestracci claim that the painting was taken from Stettiner when he fled the Vichy regime in France, in 1939.

Court papers document that:

In 1930, Stettiner loaned the Painting to the Venice Biennale, with a catalogue listing the Painting as number 35 and as having been loaned by Stettiner. On November 20, 1939, Stettiner fled Paris for his home in unoccupied Dordogne -- leaving behind his art collection, including the Painting by Modigliani -- where he remained until his death in 1948.

During the war, the painting was acquired by John Van Der Klip, who purchased it at the forced sale. Thereafter, the artwork was sold in quick succession at least twice before 1947.

After World War II ended, Stettiner commenced proceedings to recover his painting, but was unsuccessful.

On June 25, 1996, the painting was sold in London to the Nahmads by Christie's Inc, with a copy of Christie's I996 catalogue entry for the Painting listing an incorrect provenance.

In 2008, Maestracci was alerted to Seated Man With a Cane, which was consigned by the Nahmads to Sotheby's in an Impressionist and Modern sale.

Maestracci claims he received no response when he wrote to the Nahmad gallery inquiring about the painting.

Uncertain Outcome

Mondex, which represent Mr Maestracci, has further problems.

They are finding it difficult to hold onto their legal team. Court papers show that the continuity of legal assistance has altered three times since 2011, when the case was first filed.

Moreover, the proceedings are taking place in New York, not in Canada where Mondex is located, nor in Italy where Mr Maestracci resides, nor in Switzerland where the painting is currently stored.

Mondex fees range from 30%-40% of the price of the painting.

They state on their website, "If you or any members of your family are seeking to recover works of art that were either looted or purchased in forced sales by Nazi officers or their art dealers, we encourage you to contact us".

Here is the link to the Mondex website whose motto is, "helping a world of beneficiaries".