AVENTURA, Fla. – A painting of Marie-Therese Walter, Pablo Picasso’s mistress, is worth nearly $1 million and is at the center of a legal battle between an Aventura gallery owner and a New York socialite.
Billionaire socialite Wilma Tisch claims the portrait was stolen nearly a decade ago from her Manhattan home and filed a lawsuit Wednesday to get the portrait back.
Kenneth Hendel, the gallery owner, is stunned by the allegation.
"How rich is too rich to not know that your Picasso has been out of your collection for eight years?" Hendel said Wednesday.
Hendel said he bought this piece three years ago from a private seller who listed it in the Sotheby's catalog, which is known for displaying fine art, jewelry, real estate and other luxury items.
The painting has also been on full display at Art Basel in Miami twice, according to Hendel.
"Nobody said anything," Hendel said about the painting being on display at the high-profile art event.
Last week, Handel shipped the painting to a friend in New York who was preparing to sell it when someone close to the Tisch family sounded the alarm.
"It was amazing to find out that Sotheby's vetted a piece that was stolen," Hendel said. "And I just became aware of the situation yesterday."
Hendel said he did nothing wrong and has vowed to do whatever it takes to hold on to the painting.
"I don't want to sell it. I really want to give it to my daughter," he said, adding that he has taken the painting off the market until the lawsuit is resolved. "I almost didn't send it."