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Britain's National Gallery fends off 'illicit' Matisse row
Henri Matisse, Portrait of Greta Moll. 1908. Oil, canvas, 73 x 92.7 cm. Photo: National Gallery, London, UK.

LONDON (AFP).- Britain's National Gallery on Friday ruled out giving the descendants of one of Matisse's models a work by the painter which they claim the museum received through an "illicit transfer".

Painted in 1908, the "Portrait of Greta Moll" is the subject of a legal claim lodged in New York by three descendants of its subject, an artist and pupil of the French master who posed for 30 hours for the work.

The three relatives launched their lawsuit earlier this week, requesting that they be given the work or $30 million (27 million euros) in compensation, their law firm Rowland & Petroff told AFP.

The claimants say the work was a family heirloom that was  "lost" by Moll during World War II.

Moll "never sold or transferred title to the portrait to anyone and it still rightfully belongs to her heirs," they said in a statement from the law firm.

The National Gallery said in a statement on Friday that it bought the painting in 1979 and was the "legal owner of the painting, which it holds for the nation".

The museum said that at the time of the purchase it had "made the types of enquiries which all UK museums and galleries regularly made at that time regarding the history of a work when purchasing a painting".

Referring to the family's argument that the sale of the painting had been "illicit," the National Gallery said that "no legal claim had been made for the painting through the courts until this week".

The sitter, Margareta Moll, was born in Mulhouse, eastern France, in 1884. She was a sculptress and painter and, with her husband Oskar, an early collector of Matisse's work, the National Gallery said on its website.

It said the painting was an example of Matisse's recently adopted "daring style, using crude brushmarks and vibrant colours in dazzling contrasts".

The National Gallery is on Trafalgar Square in London and has a vast collection of paintings dating between the 13th and the 19th centuries.

It has around six millions visitors a year.

© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

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