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MFA wins legal claim to valuable painting

''Two Nudes (Lovers)'' by Oskar Kokoschka has been at the MFA since 1973. ''Two Nudes (Lovers)'' by Oskar Kokoschka has been at the MFA since 1973. (Museum of Fine Arts)
By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / May 30, 2009
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The Museum of Fine Arts has won a suit to establish its legal title to a valuable 1913 painting by Oskar Kokoschka.

The judgment in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts seemingly settles a dispute that began in 2007, when attorneys for Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, an Austrian woman, demanded the return of the work from the museum.

Her lawyers contended that Jewish art collector Oskar Reichel, one of her ancestors, had sold the painting under duress in Nazi-occupied 1939 Vienna. But US District Judge Rya W. Zobel, in a decision filed this week, stated that the three-year statue of limitations period on such claims has passed.

In addition, she wrote that it's not clear whether the transfer of the painting was illegitimate, as Seger-Thomschitz alleged, and that the witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the transaction are now dead.

"Two Nudes (Lovers)" has hung at the MFA almost continuously since 1973. It is a self-portrait with Alma Mahler (wife of the composer Gustav Mahler), with whom the artist had an affair. In recent years, other Kokoschka works have sold at auction for as much as $1 million.

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.