UPPER EAST SIDE — The sons of a renowned art dealer who hobnobbed with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse are on a mission to recover a Claude Monet painting and other works by Impressionist greats worth tens of millions of dollars they claim their stepmother wrongfully took from their dad.
Marc and Andre Salz say their stepmother, Janet Traeger-Salz, took at least three paintings from the estate of their father, Sam Salz, after he died in 1981. Those paintings, the sons claim in court papers, belonged to his estate and to them as heirs.
The paintings in question are Monet's "La Seine a Argenteuil," Edgar Degas' "Horses in a Meadow" and Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Still Life with Figs." The sons say they believe Traeger-Salz sold the paintings at auctions and private sales in the 1990s and 2000s. Traeger-Salz died March 19, 2015 at 98.
Traeger-Salz sold the Monet painting at an auction in 1988, according to the sons. A Monet painting with the same title sold at a Sotheby's auction in 2014 for $14.5 million. At the time, the seller was the late Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson. The buyer was not identified.
The Degas painting was sold in 1995 to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., according to the sons. The Renoir was sold in 2009.
Salz's sons plan to recover the paintings through legal action against the estate of Traeger-Salz.
Traeger-Salz and lawyer Robert S. Friedman had been the co-executors of Salz's estate for the past three decades.
Salz's son Marc filed court papers Dec. 23, 2015, asking a judge to let him replace Friedman as executor because Friedman hasn't tried to recover the paintings.
Before the filing, Irina Tarsis, a lawyer for Salz's sons, wrote a letter to Friedman in October telling him to either commence legal action against Traeger-Salz's estate or resign as executor. If Friedman did neither, the sons would include him in legal action they planned to take, the letter states.
The court papers filed by Marc Salz include a letter from Friedman asking a judge to resign as executor. He cited advanced age and living abroad as the reasons.
Marc Salz says in the court papers that if he is named administrator, he "plans to take any and all actions to investigate the possibility of pursuing claims to recover any works of art which were in fact stolen from [his dad]."
The elder Salz, an Austrian immigrant, was considered a powerful dealer of art during the 20th Century.
A onetime aspiring artist, Salz was living in Paris after World War I when he decided to ditch his brush and instead showcase the works of more talented painters like Picasso, Matisse and Marc Chagall.
He quickly established himself as an unparalleled dealer and later moved into an Upper East Side mansion on 76th Street, where he would broker million-dollar sales, according to a 1964 New York Times profile.
He would take monthslong trips to Europe to find new paintings to buy and sell. His clients included the Rockefellers, other titans of industry and Hollywood legends.
In the Times profile, Salz bragged he sold actor Edward G. Robinson a Renoir painting in 1938 for $5,000. Robinson sold it seven years later for $200,000, Salz said.
In 1970 Salz got engaged to Traeger-Salz, then an interior designer, and later married her. He tutored her in dealing art, and she took over the business when he became ill and later died at 87, according to court records.
Tarsis, the sons' lawyer who also runs the Center for Art Law in DUMBO, said her clients were able to learn of the alleged missing paintings through improvements in tracking art transactions and advances in historic research.
"It's making it easier. It's still not that easy," Tarsis said of tracking paintings. "As you probably know, the art market is very opaque."
Tarsis declined to comment further.
A lawyer connected to the Janet Traeger-Salz foundation declined to comment.