New York judge stops sale of Picasso painting worth up to $60 million

A judge temporarily blocked the highly anticipated auction of one of Pablo Picasso's works worth up to $60 million (Ђ47.24 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 on Monday 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 Tuesday 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, reports AP.

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.

Christie's said the painting, estimated to sell for between $40 million and $60 million (Ђ31.5 million and Ђ47.2 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 on the matter, spokesman Toby Usnik said. A spokeswoman for the foundation in London did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

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