How a stolen Degas painting ended up in the Nelson-Atkins museum’s Bloch collection #kcmuckreads

A painting that eluded the Nazis. A reclusive heiress. One of Kansas City’s richest sons.

MSNBC chronicles the journey of Degas’ “Dancer Making Points,” pilfered from the home of copper heiress Huguette Clark, and ending up in the Bloch collection (you know, of H&R Block) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The FBI became involved in 1993, when Clark’s lawyer realized the painting was missing. By that time, it was in Kansas City.

Bloch told MSNBC he had no reason to believe it was stolen, and has cooperated with the FBI.

“I believe I may have been first contacted in late 2005,” Henry Bloch said in a written answer to questions from msnbc.com, “by the FBI, who indicated that they were conducting an art investigation and wanted to confirm their information that we had purchased the Degas.” The FBI, Bloch said, “did not give any indication that it had been stolen and gave us assurances there was nothing to worry about. I nevertheless shared the inquiry with my attorney at the time who discussed it with the Director of the Nelson-Atkins. I do not believe I was contacted again by them until late 2007.”

And so the Blochs came to an agreement with Clark, who died last year at age 104.

The main goals for the Blochs were to keep possession of the painting during their lifetimes, and to make sure it then went to the Kansas City museum. Their attorney made a proposal: If Clark were to donate the painting to the Nelson-Atkins, the Blochs would give up ownership immediately, and cede possession after they died.

Before the handoff, Sotheby’s appraised the painting at $10 million. Clark would be able to claim that amount as a charitable deduction on her income tax return.

On Oct. 7, 2008, in her recognizable handwriting, now a bit shaky, 102-year-old Huguette Clark signed a deed giving her ballerina to the Nelson-Atkins Museum. (Read the document in PDF form.)

The saga’s not over. Clark’s relatives want the painting back, saying she wasn’t of sound mind when she deeded it to the Nelson.

See the Star’s take on the story here.

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