Tisch Widow Seeks Return of Picasso Work She Says Was Stolen

  • Wilma Tisch sues Florida gallery owner who tried to sell work
  • Says husband bought the painting in 1965 as `La Penseuse'

Billionaire heiress Wilma Tisch lost her Picasso. She’s just not sure when.

Tisch, the 88-year-old widow of former CBS Corp. Chief Executive Officer Laurence Tisch, sued a Florida art dealer seeking the return of a 14-inch-by-7.5-inch, 1928 oil painting depicting Pablo Picasso’s lover, Marie Therese-Walter, that her husband bought in 1965.

The work had passed to Tisch after her husband died in 2003 and remained in her possession until it was stolen from her New York home some time after December 2009, when she had it appraised at $400,000, according to the lawsuit. 

Tisch knew the painting was missing, but she hadn’t pursued it until her son Thomas received an e-mail recently from a dealer who had been approached about buying the piece, her lawyer Luke Nikas, told a judge in Manhattan during a hearing Wednesday.

According to the lawsuit, Tisch learned that the owner of a gallery in Florida was trying to sell the painting in New York and that it was being held by Day & Meyer, Murray & Young Corp., a company on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that specializes in fine art handling and storage.

After Tisch contacted the storage company, Day & Meyer initially refused to return the work to the Florida dealer, Kenneth Hendel, who had stored it there in order to be viewed by potential purchasers. Day & Meyer relented when Hendel demanded its return and sent someone to retrieve the painting earlier this week, according to court filings.

Return Ordered

New York State Supreme Court Justice Joan Kenney on Wednesday ordered Hendel to return the painting to Day & Meyer until its ownership can be determined. The judge scheduled another hearing for next month.

Hendel said in a telephone interview from his gallery in Aventura, Florida, that he is an "innocent victim" who bought the piece from a person who tried to sell it at Sotheby’s. He said the piece has been displayed at shows including Art Basel in Miami and he wasn’t trying to hide it or sell it on the black market.

“When is too rich too rich to realize a Picasso has been missing?” asked Hendel, whose gallery was named small business of the year by the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce in 2014. “I’m just a small guy against a big Tisch.”

Hendel bought the painting for $350,000 cash and $150,000 in artwork from Miami Art Fund LLC after it failed to sell at a Sotheby’s auction of Impressionist and modern art in May 2013, according to court filings. It was offered under the title “Tete (Portrait de Marie-Therese),” with an estimated value of $700,000 to $900,000, according to a catalog for the auction.

‘Tete’ in Sotheby’s Auction

Tisch said she only discovered earlier this month that the piece had been offered for sale at Sotheby’s. The work was titled “La Penseuse” when her husband bought it for $11,000 in 1965, according to court filings. While the auction listing described the painting as having passed from Laurence Tisch to a private collection, Wilma Tisch said that neither she, nor anyone authorized by her, sold the work and that it remains on her insurance policy.

Day & Meyer didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail requests, made after regular business hours, for comment on the lawsuit. Dan Abernethy, a spokesman for Sotheby’s, declined to immediately comment.

Tisch is listed No. 1367 on Forbes’ list of billionaires worldwide with a net worth of $1.41 billion.

The case is Tisch v. Hendel, 153319/2016, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan.)

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