Museum to get world’s largest Picasso painting

A stage curtain believed to be the biggest Pablo Picasso painting in the United States is moving to

A stage curtain believed to be the biggest Pablo Picasso painting in the United States is moving to a museum after a dispute over whether it could stay in its longtime spot in the storied Four Seasons restaurant, the painting’s owner announced Thursday.

The 19-by-20-foot curtain, called “Le Tricorne,” is being donated to the New-York Historical Society, where it’s expected to go on display after some conservation work, painting owner the Landmarks Conservancy said. The timetable isn’t clear; the groups still are working out the arrangements.

The painting is so familiar a sight that its Four Seasons berth is known as “Picasso Alley.” The pact also resolves a lawsuit that caused a stir among art lovers and preservationists, pitting the Landmarks Conservancy against a real estate magnate known as an art patron.

“It’s going to be at a good home, where even more people will see it,” conservancy President Peg Breen said. Historical Society President Louise Mirrer called the painting “an icon of New York for more than half a century, embodying both an influential social milieu and an important moment in the city’s cultural development.”

Picasso painted the curtain in 1919 for “Le Tricorne,” or “three-cornered hat,” a ballet created by the avant-garde, Paris-based Ballet Russes troupe. The painting depicts the aftermath of a bullfight.

Although praised at $1.6 million in 2008, the painting isn’t considered one of Picasso’s greatest pieces but stands as a major example of his theatrical set work, experts say. And it has graced the Four Seasons’ landmarked, modernist interior since its 1959 opening. The painting itself isn’t landmarked.

The midtown Manhattan restaurant, unaffiliated with the nearby Four Seasons hotel, is a power-lunch hotspot that has hosted high-wattage diners ranging from President Bill Clinton to Madonna.

The restaurant’s landlord, RFR Holding Corp. — co-founded by state Council on the Arts Chairman Aby Rosen — recently said the curtain had to be moved for repairs to the wall behind it. The Landmarks Conservancy sued RFR to try to stop the move, disputing the extent of the wall damage and saying the move could destroy the brittle canvas.

The preservation group’s concerns have been somewhat assuaged by the current plan, which involves carefully wrapping the painting on a huge roller and having conservators do any needed restoration work, Breen said. Rosen is paying for it all, said Breen, who wouldn’t disclose the estimated cost.

Through a spokeswoman, Rosen and RFR declined to comment on the agreement, first reported by The New York Times.

Some art and architecture critics had decried the move, at least as initially planned, though others took the landlord’s side.

Rosen, an art collector whom the Landmarks Conservancy itself once honored as a preservationist, told the Times in March the outcry had “elevated this into something that it shouldn’t be.”

Associated Press writer Ula Ilnytzky contributed to this report.

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