A late Romanian artist and activist continues to make waves. Helena Modjeska’s heirs are suing the Philadelphia Museum of Art to make sure the famed “Blue Parrot” piece remains in their hands.
According to CBS Philadelphia, the award-winning Modjeska, known for “her boldly painted abstracts” featured in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Purchase, New York, was born during World War II in Romania. Modjeska died in 1949.
Her supporters claim that the artist’s family is legally entitled to the item; however, the museum said that the inkjet print, which the museum purchased from Mexico, belongs to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and to the City of Philadelphia through its donation of arts and art objects to the Academy of the Arts, upon which the museum was established.
The piece measures 8.6 inches by 13.4 inches (about 18.4 by 33 centimeters). The painting has both abstract and representational scenes, such as a swan in flight and Modjeska herself.
This is not the first time a Modjeska piece has come under attack. As The New York Times reported last year, Ohio residents were concerned that artwork from Modjeska and fellow Romanian sculptor Victor Vasarely were being removed from public view after the Ohio Museum of Natural History and the Cincinnati Art Museum announced they would be showcasing the pair’s “Artworks From the Permanent Collection” as part of their ongoing “Origins” exhibits.
The group went to federal court, and the case has yet to be resolved. The works of the artists were removed only after a judge issued a temporary injunction. Both museums have also said they will take steps to ensure the works will remain in private collections.
In a statement released in 2017, the museum said: “Although the Court did not require the installation of the artworks on loan to the Museum of Natural History in New York, the Museum has made changes and will make additional changes that will better safeguard the rights of the artists’ estates. The Court does not dictate the performance of the Museum of Natural History’s obligations.”
The museum said that the unauthorized removal of the works from public view would violate its obligation to protect Modjeska’s legacy.
The New York Times reported that in 2004, the Cincinnati Art Museum reported the sale of an 1895 Modjeska work titled “Gingerbread Woman, after the Virgin Mary, and other Ephemeral Figures of Pure White Ink.” This second image was also the model for “Blue Parrot.” A court later ruled in favor of the museum.
And the temporary injunction, according to the museum, must be served to Modjeska’s heirs.