Hector Feliciano, author of a well-known book about Nazi art theft in World War II, is suing the estate of art dealer Paul Rosenberg and his heirs for a 17.5% finder’s fee for aiding the recovery of various works of art stolen by the Nazis from the famous collection, which Rosenberg left behind when he fled France in 1940.
The complaint, filed in a state trial court in Manhattan, seeks over $6.8 million in damages for Mr Feliciano's efforts on behalf of the Rosenberg family, which he says he made at the request of the dealer's daughter-in-law.
The claimed 17.5% fee is based on "the standards of the art industry for the recovery of works of art", and is applied to a value of $39 million worth of paintings which Mr Feliciano says he helped recover through extensive work "under the promise to be paid". Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are the estate of Rosenberg's son Alexandre, Alexandre's wife Elaine, and other persons.
In 1997, Mr Feliciano published The lost museum: the Nazi conspiracy to steal the world's greatest works of art, contributing to a growing public awareness of Nazi art looting during World War II.
Before he arrived on the scene, Mr Feliciano says, the Rosenberg family "had stopped systematically looking for the stolen Rosenberg art." When he first met Elaine Rosenberg in 1994, he says, they discussed Mr Feliciano's expertise in the field of recovery of art stolen by Nazis, and in further discussions in 1995, Ms Rosenberg told Mr Feliciano that if he could help the family find some of the stolen art and if any of the stolen works were restituted, "he would be financially rewarded for his work."
While no exact number was placed on the amount of such a reward, Mr Feliciano "assumed it would be between 10% and 25%," the complaint says.
Over the next several years, Mr Feliciano spent "thousands of hours" in seeking to compile a list of the lost Rosenberg artworks and trace their whereabouts, he says. Of his list identifying 67 missing works of art, 64 are still not found, he says.
The family successfully recovered the Matisse painting "Odalisque" (The Art Newspaper, Issue 108, November 2000, p.3) from the collection of the Seattle Art Museum in 1997 due to his "extensive work" and the "deliberate exposure" he gave the painting in his book, Mr Feliciano said. Mr Feliciano pointed out that, after recovery, the painting had sold for between $8 to $10 million. He said that he aided recovery of a Monet, "Water Lilies" which was sold after recovery for $20 to $25 million; the painting "Woman in Red and Green" by Leger, located at the Pompidou Centre; and a Bonnard worth $1-2 million, in addition to helping prepare the Rosenbergs' attorney, he says.
The complaint includes a list of the 63 missing works of art which Mr Feliciano identifies as having been taken from Paul Rosenberg's collection and never recovered.
Mr Feliciano is claiming breach of contract, unjust enrichment, compensation for work performed, and fraud.