Lawsuit Suspends Picasso Sale

NEW YORK CITY.- The battle over a rare Picasso sculpture, first reported in January, has intensified with new legal complaints that the artist’s daughter canceled a first sale of the work for about $42 million to agents of the royal family of Qatar, and then rushed in secret to close a better deal for $106 million by transferring ownership to another buyer.

The work, a 1931 bust of Picasso’s mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, is the subject of legal actions in three countries, including France and Switzerland.

The dispute pits the agent for the royal Qatari family against the New York art dealer Larry Gagosian over ownership of the work that was sold twice by Picasso’s daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso, 80.

In a legal action filed late on Friday night in federal court in Manhattan, the Qatari family’s agent, Pelham Holdings, outlined the chronology of the second, $106 million sale in May 2015 to Mr. Gagosian.

According to the Pelham complaint, the agreement with the art dealer allowed the transfer of the title to the sculpture before a final payment was made. In turn, Mr. Gagosian sold the sculpture to Leon Black, a New York art collector, in a deal that would have allowed Mr. Black to take possession before that payment was made.

Over the course of the transaction, according to the Pelham complaint, Maya Widmaier-Picasso’s daughter, Diana, received a lucrative commission from Mr. Gagosian for acting as an intermediary on the second sale, which was based on a one-page invoice.

The contract information was gathered by Pelham after it won court approval to seek documents and emails about the second sale. The case, which is also proceeding toward a trial in Geneva where the first sale took place, is scheduled for trial on Sept. 19 in New York. The sculpture was on display at the Museum of Modern Art through early February and now remains in Mr. Gagosian’s possession during the legal proceedings.

A spokesman for the Gagosian Gallery said, “we bought and sold the sculpture in good faith and with good title.”