National Gallery and the British Public are rightful owners of Portrait of Greta Moll

Issued 28 October 2016

The National Gallery acquired Portrait of Greta Moll by Matisse on behalf of the British public in 1979. The Gallery purchased the work from a commercial gallery in London in good faith and is its rightful owner. Prior to the 1979 purchase, the painting was exhibited and published on a number of occasions.

Since then this much loved painting has been on display free of charge for millions of visitors to enjoy each year, and it can be appreciated today in Room 44 of our Trafalgar Square building.

We understand that both Greta Moll and her husband were living in Germany during the Second World War. Some years after the war ended, and following the death of her husband in August 1947 (when the family say the painting was still in their possession), Greta Moll moved to Wales. This case therefore does not concern Nazi looted art.

Had there been any suggestion that the family lost the painting as a result of Nazi persecution, the family’s claims would have been considered by the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel, which was set up specifically to deal with such cases. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport however expressly declined, in 2015, to refer the case to the Panel, since he found that it falls outside the Panel’s remit.

The Moll family themselves have acknowledged that they have known of the painting’s location for decades and over the years since we bought the painting we have had contact with a number of them. One of Greta Moll’s daughters was photographed in front of the painting in 1992. In 1995, another of her daughters was in correspondence with the Gallery about the fact that her mother preferred the name ‘Marg’ to Grete or Greta Moll. At no point was it ever suggested to us that the painting had been stolen from the family, or that the family had any concerns with the painting being on display here at the National Gallery. We only became aware of these when we received a letter from US lawyers acting for them in 2011.

At that stage the National Gallery shared information with the family’s lawyers which we held on the provenance of the painting, and we invited them to come to the Gallery to inspect all the papers we hold in relation to its history and provenance.

We do not believe there is any justification for litigation in the USA, given that we purchased the painting in the UK, and that none of the family members bringing the claim are residents of the USA.

Director of the National Gallery, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, says, “We are proud to have Matisse’s superb 'Portrait of Greta Moll' on show to the public in Trafalgar Square and we are confident that the National Gallery is the rightful owner of this work.”

Chair of the National Gallery Board of Trustees, Hannah Rothschild, added "The Board of Trustees of the National Gallery have full confidence in our rightful ownership of Matisse’s 'Portrait of Greta Moll' and we will robustly defend this action on behalf of the British public."