Artist's foundation sues ex-owner of NYC's Chelsea Hotel, known as artist haven, over painting

A former owner of the Chelsea Hotel, for decades a famed artists' haunt, have removed and won't return a loaned Larry Rivers painting that hung in the lobby, the pop art pioneer's foundation said in a lawsuit Tuesday.

"Dutch Masters" was plucked from its prominent spot after real estate baron Joseph Chetrit bought and began renovating the Manhattan hotel in 2011, and his management rebuffed demands to return it, the Larry Rivers Foundation's suit says.

"Unfortunately, the foundation was put in the position of having to file this lawsuit," said one of its lawyers, Judith Wallace.

A representative for Chetrit, who has since sold his stake in the hotel, had no immediate comment.

The landmark hotel gained renown as a haven for the creative. Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, and Arthur Miller were a few of those who spent time there (Bob Dylan recounted "stayin' up for days in the Chelsea Hotel / writin' 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands'" in his 1975 song "Sara"). In the hotel's most infamous moment, Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious player stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, there in 1978.

Rivers, who died in 2002 after a career that also included acting and filmmaking, was among the artists in the hotel's orbit. He painted "Dutch Masters" — also known as "Syndics of the Drapery Guild as Dutch Masters" — in the late 1970s as part of a series of similar works, according to the foundation, which safeguards his legacy. The image was plainly based on the cover of a "Dutch Masters" cigar box, even including the cigars.

Rivers lent the roughly 8-foot-by-5 ½-foot "Dutch Masters" painting to the hotel in about 1998, to replace another painting of his that he had sold, according to the lawsuit. It values the painting at $250,000 or more.

A Chetrit spokeswoman said in January 2012 that all the artwork in the hotel had been catalogued and stored elsewhere for safekeeping during the renovations, according to a Daily News report then.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.