Four Works of Nazi-Looted Art Identified and Returned to Jewish Family

Four Works of Nazi-Looted Art Identified and Returned to Jewish Family

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Germany has identified four drawings that Nazis stole from a Jewish home during the Third Reich. The art belonged to the Deutsch de la Meurthe family, who lived in Paris when Germany invaded and occupied France. Nazis seized their house—all but Georgette, the youngest daughter, died in the Holocaust—and used it to store other stolen art and furniture from Jewish families.

The Deutsch de la Meurthe drawings surfaced after researchers posted about them in Germany’s Lost Art database in July 2017, and an anonymous owner came forward with them. Researchers have since traced the drawings to Hildebrand Gurlitt, the head buyer for Adolf Hitler’s planned Führermuseum. Hildebrand gave the drawings and 14 other pieces to his daughter, Benita Gurlitt, who died in 2012. However, it’s not clear how Hildebrand got his hands on the Deutsch de la Meurthe drawings in the first place.

One of the biggest reasons Nazis stole art was because Adolf Hitler wanted to build an art museum that only featured work by “Aryan” Germans. He planned to establish his Führermuseum, or “Leader Museum,” in the Austrian city of Linz, which he considered his hometown. Most of all, Hitler wanted the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck. This was a large, Belgian church piece that the Treaty of Versailles had forced Germany to give back to Belgium. (The 2014 film Monuments Men dramatizes the Allies’ operation to recover some of this art.)

At the same time, Hitler wanted to purge German museums of art by Jewish people and communists, as well as art that seemed too modern or un-German. In 1937, Nazis held a “Degenerate Art” exhibit to highlight these types of pieces. Over the next few years, Germany removed and stole tens of thousands of “degenerate art” from state and private collections. Nazis burned some of these pieces and sold others abroad. Only four German art dealers had approval to sell “degenerate art,” and Hildebrand Gurlitt was one of them.

German officials discovered most of the known pieces in Hildebrand’s stash in his son’s apartments in 2012. Authorities found hundreds of these works while investigating his son, Cornelius Gurlitt, for tax evasion. Between Cornelius’ apartments in Munich and Salzburg, authorities confiscated 1,566 pieces. The included pieces by artists like Pablo Picasso, whose cubism Nazis considered to be degenerate art.

The discoveries in Cornelius’ apartments spawned a task force charged with determining the pieces’ provenance and whether Nazis had stolen them (Nazis purchased some “Aryan” artwork around Europe, and state museums may have willingly handed over “degenerate art”). Before his death in 2014, Cornelius agreed to restitute any work that was illegally obtained. However, determining the works’ provenance has proved very difficult.

“Even though we have good funding and perfect researchers, even they sometimes can't clarify a provenance to say that this is a work that came from a family or not,” Andrea Baresel-Brand, head of the Department of Lost Art and Documentation for the German Lost Art Foundation, told Live Science.

Only a few pieces from Cornelius’ stash have been returned to the heirs of the artworks’ original owners. Now, the four Deutsch de la Meurthe drawings have also been restituted to the family’s heirs. With the family’s approval, these drawings by Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen, Augustin de Saint Aubin and Anne Vallayer-Coster are on display until January 2019 at the Gropius Bau museum in Berlin, along with other pieces from the famous Gurlitt stash.

Trove of Art Stolen from Jewish Family Rediscovered, Identified as Nazi Loot

BERLIN —A crowd gathers joyfully around a dinner table in the 18th-century illustration by the French artist Charles Dominique Joseph Eisen. The scene hides the artwork's dark history: It was robbed nearly 80 years ago from a Jewish family's home in Nazi-occupied Paris.

German investigators announced last week that the artwork and three other drawings have been identified as Nazi loot. They are now on public display here at the Gropius Bau in the exhibition "Gurlitt: Status Report."

The drawings once decorated the home of the wealthy Deutsch de la Meurthefamily, which earned a fortune in the oil industry and sponsored early aviation efforts. After the invasion of France, Nazi officers confiscated the home and used the house as a depot to store works of art and furniture plundered from Jewish homes as part of an operation known as "Möbel Aktion." One of the Deutsch de la Meurthewomen was murdered at Auschwitz. [Images: Missing Nazi Diary Resurfaces]

The rediscovery of the drawings marks a rare recovery of Nazi loot for the Gurlitt task force, a group of German researchers who have been trying to clarify the murky origins of a huge trove of art from a Nazi-era dealer for the past several years.

"There are many stories behind these artworks," said Andrea Baresel-Brand, head of the Department of Lost Art and Documentation for the German Lost Art Foundation. "This is always a very moving thing. When you come to a restitution, there's always a very tragic history forever attached to a work of art."

Carl Spitzweg, Playing the Piano, ca. 1840

This drawing by Carl Spitzweg was seized in 1939 from Jewish music publisher Heinri Hinrichsen, who was killed at the Auschwitz death camp in 1942. It was acquired by Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt — and later found among the spectacular collection of works hoarded by his son, Cornelius Gurlitt. The work has now been handed over to Christie's auction house at the request of Hinrichsen's heirs.

Gurlitt Collection: Germany's most infamous Nazi-looted art trove

Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael

This painting is by far one of the most well-known to have gone missing during World War II and Poland considers it to be the most important work of art taken from their country. It was painted by Raphael around 1513 and while some historians believe it to be a self-portrait, the identity of the main in the painting had not been confirmed. The painting features elements that focus on the balance of Heaven and Earth and humanizing the nobleman. There is nothing to indicate the profession of the man in the painting, which does not help with the struggle to identify the subject.
The painting was housed at the Czartoryski Museum in Poland. As the Nazis advanced, Prince Augustyn Jozef Czartoryski attempted to save some of the paintings by taking them from the museum and hiding them. Portrait of a Young Man was one such painting. He hid the paintings at a home in Sieniawa but they were eventually found by the Gestapo under the orders of Hans Frank. Hans Frank ordered this painting to be taken to his home in Krakow, and then it was later shipped to Berlin to be part of Hitler&rsquos museum.
In January 1945, Hans Frank took the painting back to Krakow in order to decorate Wawel Castle. This is the last place the painting was seen. In February 1945, Krakow was evacuated ahead of a Russian offensive and Hans Frank took the painting to his own villa in Neuhaus am Schliersee. However, when he was arrested on May 8th, 1945 the painting was not among those recovered from his home. He was killed for his crimes before ever revealing the location of the Raphael.
If the painting were to be found today, it&rsquos value is estimated at $100 million.

Investigation: San Francisco museums may hold Nazi-looted art

A view of Amsterdam at midday. A dark forest with sunlight peeking through the trees as a woman washes clothes in a river. A young boy feeding a monkey as a man to his left holds back a swan.

These are scenes from three paintings owned by the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, part of a batch of 10 European artworks obtained between 1933 and 1945 that FAMSF is now reviewing for their possible connection to Nazi-looted art.

The city’s largest arts institution, which oversees the de Young Museum and the California Legion of Honor, has in total some 100,000 pieces of art. It “stands as one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States,” according to its website.

The 10 artworks were flagged by the Fine Arts Museums once before, in 2001, as potentially part of what has been called the greatest plunder of art in human history — when Hitler and high-ranking Nazi officials made it party policy to steal paintings, sculptures and furniture owned by Jewish families and European museums. As Nazi Germany oversaw the destruction of European Jewry and the murder of millions, its officials stole an estimated one-fifth of all European art in existence at the time, much of it taken right off the walls or pulled out of the cabinets of Jewish homes across Europe. The Nazis also looted many public museums in countries they occupied. One estimate puts the total loss from the thefts at $20.5 billion in today’s figures.

After an inquiry by J., FAMSF staffers said they have begun a new review of the 10 artworks, which span the 15th to 19th centuries, to gather more information about their ownership. They are also looking into expanded public access to information about these and other works. In addition, staff members are reviewing two other artworks brought to their attention by J. — a 15th-century painting of Mary Magdalene and a 19th-century sketch. All of these works are currently in storage, not on public display.

This 15th century painting of Mary Magdalene by an unknown artist is one of two works in the FAMSF collection flagged for investigation by J. (Photo/Courtesy FAMSF)

“We take any claims or questions or inquiries about our collection very seriously,” said Melissa Buron, director of the art division at FAMSF.

“We do as much research as we possibly can to fill in gaps in knowledge that may exist,” she said. “It’s a continuous process, and gaps in provenance in any museum collection are not particularly uncommon. But that’s the work of a curator, to over many years fill in those gaps to the best of our ability and to continuously work on that. We want to be as transparent as possible.”

FAMSF has submitted the 12 artworks in question to the Art Loss Register, a world-renowned database that provides information to museums about stolen art. The website says it has cataloged over 700,000 items. FAMSF said it will share the results of the ALR review with J.

“This would be the way to put those pieces together,” said Buron. She said her institution regularly runs artworks through the database, especially when making new acquisitions.

“If there are any notable gaps in provenance, we do that due diligence before it comes into the collection,” she said. “But with things that have been in the collection for a long time, it’s good to periodically run things through. And, of course, when you’re doing it at different moments in the course of history, there may be new things coming to light.”

Miriam Newcomer, a spokesperson for FAMSF, declined to provide the estimated value of the 12 works.

An American soldier inspects German loot stored in a church in Elligen, Germany, April 24, 1945. (Photo/National Archives)

The FAMSF website to date has no dedicated section on which artworks have been flagged, the research into their history, or the museum’s policy on such matters — information that many other American museums routinely provide.

And in the website descriptions that accompany each artwork, there are scant, and in some cases missing, provenances. (A provenance lists each known owner of the artwork in chronological order.)

The review by FAMSF represents a larger reckoning taking place in the art world over the last 30 or so years, with museums and countries acknowledging that objects in their collection may have been looted by Nazis.

The best works were taken by Hitler, who had plans for a postwar art museum near his birthplace in Austria. Hermann Göring, one of the most powerful Nazi leaders, would display stolen artwork at his hunting lodge near Berlin.

Hitler despised modern art, which he considered to be a sign of societal decay. Some historians also speculate that Hitler’s failed art career contributed to his obsession with collecting stolen art. In 1937, the Nazis hosted a “Degenerate Art” show in Munich, where 600 modernist artworks, all decried by Hitler, were on display. In some instances, the Nazis destroyed works by modernist and Jewish artists.

“The Monkey and the Gander” by Frans Snyders, ca. 1613 (Photo/Courtesy FAMSF)

Hitler preferred classical European artworks from the 19th century, especially those showcasing Germany’s history. Many such looted artworks were sold to shady art dealers in Switzerland, France and other places who then sold them to museums around the world, including in America. The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal currently has 29,863 flagged artworks cataloged from 179 museums in the United States alone — including FAMSF.

As the war ended, Allied countries made efforts to return the plundered artworks to their rightful owners, with varying degrees of success. Repositories were set up, such as the Munich Central Collecting Point Archive, where confiscated artworks were collected and then returned to their countries of origin, which were then supposed to track down the original owners. Groups such as the Monuments Men, a cadre of soldiers from 13 countries, ended up returning 5 million stolen objects taken by the Nazis. (A 2014 movie starring George Clooney told their story.)

While some returns were made immediately after the war, it wasn’t until 1998 that the Association of Art Museum Directors, to which the FAMSF belongs, set guidelines on how to handle art possibly linked to Nazi looting. One encourages museums to make public any “work of art in its collection [that] was illegally confiscated during the Nazi/World War II era and not restituted.”

The guidelines inspired the 1998 Washington Conference in D.C., where a group of 44 countries met and established a nonbinding legal framework regarding the return of stolen art. The conference coincided with one of the most famous legal cases surrounding the repatriation of stolen Nazi art, when Maria Altmann of Los Angeles reclaimed several Gustav Klimt paintings from the Austrian government that the Nazis had taken from her family during the war. The events were later dramatized in the 2015 movie “Woman in Gold” starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.

“People don’t really know the story of the art,” said Donald Burris, who served on the Altmann case as co-counsel, along with E. Randol Schoenberg. “They know the story of the ovens. The art-taking was more than just greed. It was an absolute policy of the Nazis to destroy culture.”

German soldiers posing in Rome in 1944 with a painting stolen from the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy, which they are about to return in advance of Allied forces entering the city. (Photo/German Federal Archives)

Still today, Jewish families are battling with museums and governments that hold their family treasures. In March 2020, a museum in Basel, Switzerland, agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to a family who lost 200 paintings as they fled Nazi Germany. The same year, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., returned a Picasso to a Jewish family to avoid possible litigation. In April, a Dutch museum compensated the descendants of a Jewish family who sold a 1635 Bernardo Strozzi painting under duress to the Nazis. While the Dutch government acknowledged it was Nazi-looted, it declined to return the work to the family, ruling that it was in the public’s interest to have access to the art.

As recently as 2011, over 1,000 artworks thought to have been lost forever were discovered in a German apartment building. The son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of Hitler’s main art dealers, lived in the building and kept the art, with an estimated value of over $1 billion, in his possession.

As for the 10 paintings flagged by FAMSF in 2001, seven are credited to the Mildred Anna Williams Collection and list her as the most recent owner. Williams was a Parisian who, in 1929, promised her entire collection of over 100 works to the Legion of Honor. The collection was quickly packed up and shipped to San Francisco in 1940, weeks before the Nazis took over France.

Four of the Williams paintings list Knoedler and Co.’s Paris branch as the previous owner. Knoedler, an art dealership that was headquartered in New York City and closed in 2011, was involved in at least two documented cases of selling Nazi looted art.

The three paintings not from the Williams collection offer no provenance, each credited as “museum purchase” by the de Young Museum, its endowment fund or the Legion of Honor.

This March, J. flagged two additional paintings that the Fine Arts Museums has also agreed to review.

“Sketch to the Artists’ Enchantment” Rudolph Grossman is one of two works in the FAMSF collection flagged for investigation by J. (Photo/Courtesy FAMSF)

One is the 15th-century portrait of Mary Magdalene that the FAMSF acquired in 1948. Its provenance only goes back as far as Oscar Bondy, a Jewish Austrian businessman whose large art collection was expropriated when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938. After Bondy, the last known owner of the portrait was Hans Wendland, considered one of “the most important” Nazi art dealers during the war, according to a declassified interrogation of Wendland in 1946.

Much of Bondy’s collection was discovered by U.S. troops after the war and returned to his widow, who auctioned them off in New York in 1949. A search in the Munich Central Collecting Point Archive database of Nazi-looted artworks, cataloged by Allied soldiers, does not include the Mary Magdalene painting.

The other artwork flagged by J. is “Sketch to the artists’ enchantment” by the relatively unknown artist Rudolph Grossman. It was acquired by the FAMSF in 1942. Grossman’s artworks were confiscated by the Nazis and some were featured in the 1937 “Degenerate Art” show. No provenance on the sketch is currently listed.

The 10 paintings flagged by FAMSF in 2001:

  1. Washerwoman by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
  2. Saint Anthony the Hermit by Colijn de Coter
  3. Madonna and Child by Francesco Granacci
  4. The Tow Path by Jacob Henricus Maris
  5. View of Amsterdam by Jacob Henricus Maris
  6. Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Polidoro da Lanciano
  7. Madame de Genlis by George Romney
  8. Mirth (Sketch for Head of Comedy) by George Romney
  9. The Monkey and the Gander by Frans Snyders
  10. A Village Road by Lodewijk de Vadder

The two paintings flagged by J.:

Carla Shapreau, a lecturer of art and cultural property law at UC Berkeley who has devoted a portion of her research to investigating musical instruments lost during the Nazi era, including a 1722 Antonio Stradivari violin believed to be owned by Bondy that still hasn’t been found, said that Nazi-era provenance research requires a multifaceted approach and that standards have evolved over the years.

When it comes to reviewing one’s own collection, a museum generally begins its research “with a review of [its] acquisition file for the object under study and relevant materials may include, in addition to the acquisition file, historical correspondence, import/export documentation, historical expert certifications of authenticity and appraisals, restoration records, photographs, exhibition documentation, publication history, auction history, historical bills of sale, and many other records,” Shapreau said in an email to J.

“View of Amsterdam” by Jacob Maris, ca. 1870 (Photo/Courtesy FAMSF)

She described the Art Loss Register as the “leading fee-based commercial database utilized for such searches” and said it “provides an important service.” However, she added, other relevant information about the 12 paintings may be in public and private archives that would require the museum to conduct onsite archival research, if the records are accessible.

“Relegating all research to an ALR database search and certification may, in some cases, be insufficient,” said Shapreau, who pointed to a number of examples where individuals or museums’ use of the ALR in provenance research was later put into question, including a case in May 2018 surrounding the background of a Persian antiquity from the fifth century BCE.

On its website, the ALR states, “We not only conduct an internal check of our own database — which includes the Interpol database — but also other specialist databases, archives and resources, including six external databases relating to the period 1933-45. Further research is then conducted by the ALR’s specialist team depending on the type of object and its provenance.”

The ALR site further notes that, “Unfortunately, no database of stolen art, antiques and collectables can be complete, but an ALR Certificate will provide an important defence and demonstration of due diligence as part of a holder’s good faith should any claim be brought forward for an object.”

No claims of ownership have been made for any of the paintings in question, according to Buron. She noted that missing provenances aren’t all that uncommon on the FAMSF website and their completion is an ongoing project. In some cases, she said, the museum may know the provenances but have not yet added them online. Also slowing the process, Buron said, is that the institution’s cataloging software and website is being updated and is in transition.

“Saint Anthony the Hermit” by Colijn de Coter, ca 1465-1520 (Photo/Courtesy FAMSF)

FAMSF staff members do not know why the 10 artworks were first called out in 2001 (the people who flagged them no longer work for the institution). At the time, they were included in the background research of 400 paintings acquired between 1933 and 1998. The 10 were voluntarily submitted in 2005 to the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, a project launched by the American Alliance of Museums where suspected artworks are submitted by U.S. museums. (FAMSF is a member of the alliance.)

FAMSF’s Buron described the era of Nazi-looted art as a “fascinating,” “troubling” and “complex” period of history.

“I think the more people that can help us understand what we might be missing, if that’s possible to do, would be really very much in line with the goals of our transparency around the collections,” she said.

Erin L. Thompson, a professor at the City University of New York who specializes in art crime, believes FAMSF is “trying to do the right thing” by submitting the 12 artworks to the ALR. She said technical difficulties and expenses make research into the background of artwork challenging.

“I always praise museums for trying,” she said. “You have to make sure what you have is accessible. So there can be accountability. So there can be information for specific heirs.”

“A Village Road” by Lodowijck de Vadder, ca. 1630 (Photo/Courtesy FAMSF)

Only recently have museums started to direct resources toward researching their collections for possible connections to Nazi-looted art, Thompson said.

“The thefts happened a long time ago,” she said, while “the changing of minds in the museum community is not that long ago. The minds you have to change are the people who are in possession of the information.”

At least part of the reason museums find this work challenging, said Thompson, is because their fundraising typically focuses on projects such as acquiring new works, something donors readily support, rather than on provenance research.

“Donate so that they can do this type of research,” she said, addressing potential donors. “I encourage people to keep an eye on the labels.”

And being transparent about suspicious artwork, said Thompson, will only serve to offer more clues to unravel the full extent of Nazi plundering.

“The point of it is to put your research out there,” she said, “so people who have other pieces of the puzzle can complete the puzzle.”

A Dutch Art Restitution Project Is Reuniting Jews With Nazi-Looted Work

While it has only existed for nine years, the Dutch restitution project, Museale Verwervingen is already close to completing its mission to find and return art stolen from Jewish families by Nazis and their collaborators. 172 pieces from 42 Dutch museums and the Royal Collection have been identified as potentially looted. Many of the items, have already been validated by a restitution committee and restored to their owners or their heirs.

Museale Verwervingen began its inquiries in 2009, enlisting 163 member institutions in a survey of art believed to be confiscated or surrendered under murky circumstances between 1933 and 1945. Since the Guardian reported on the project’s efforts on October 16, two more items have been flagged and added to the Museale Verwervingen’s online catalog.

“This research is important to do justice to history,” Chris Janssen a spokesman for Museale Verwervingen told the Guardian. “A museum can only show a piece of art properly if the story and history behind the object is clear… In other words: a museum must know which road a piece of art has traveled before it came to the museum.”

Not even the Royal House of Orange was immune to the probe. In 2015, an investigation of the palace’s collection prompted the return of a Joris van der Haagen landscape that was forfeited to a Nazi bank in Amsterdam by its original owner. Queen Juliana purchased the painting from a collector in 1960 and the royal family maintains she didn’t know its provenance.

The Rijksmuseum, the Netherland’s national museum and the country’s largest, is the only institution yet to complete an inventory. As mentioned on the Museale Verwervingen’s website the museum is combing through its works in phases owing to the massive scale of its galleries. But a team of five experts at the Rijksmuseum has managed to mark 22 pieces from its collection as suspect since they began work in 2012.

The total list of works identified by Museale Verwervingen number 84 paintings, 26 drawings, four sculptures, 45 pieces of what they call “applied art” (a miscellaneous category of furniture, cutlery, ceramics and more) and 13 spiritual artifacts including menorahs and torah scrolls. A Kandinsky watercolor, a series of factory scenes by Dutch painter Jan Toorop and sketches by Matisse are among the stolen pieces.

The Guardian reports that the most recent restitution is a 16th century bronze sculpture of Moses by Alessandro Vittoria, returned to the heirs of Emma Ranette Budge-Lazarus, the German-born wife of a wealthy American railroad financier who died in 1937. The work had been auctioned per Budge-Lazarus’ will, but her heirs, many of whom left the country ahead of the Holocaust and at least one of whom was deported to a concentration camp, were unable to claim the money from the sales at the time.

All of the items are viewable in an online database that includes their history, chain of ownership and conclusions and explanations of their provenance.

The impressive Dutch catalog is similar to a lost art database started by Germany in 2000. The latter database has met with recent controversy from Jewish heirs for removing artworks whose looted status came into question amid new evidence

A Drawing Believed to Be the Final Nazi-Looted Artwork in the Gurlitt Collection Has Been Returned to Its Rightful Owners

The provenance of some 1,000 artworks from the notorious collection still remain unknown.

A restorer works on a masterpiece from the collection Cornelius Gurlitt. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images.

Germany has restituted the 14th and what is believed to be final work of art from the notorious trove of Cornelius Gurlitt, whose art-dealer father, Hildebrand, worked with the Nazis beginning in 1938 to acquire works under duress from Jewish collectors.

The latest artwork to be returned to the heirs of its rightful owner is a circa 1840 drawing by German artist Carl Spitzweg titled Das Klavierspiel (Piano Playing). It originally belonged to Henri Hinrichsen, a Jewish music publisher.

A German Lost Art Foundation report found that the work “was seized due to Nazi persecution” by the Gestapo in 1939. A year later, Hildebrand Gurlitt purchased the drawing.

The dealer deposited payment in Hinrichsen’s bank account, but it was legally blocked and Hinrichsen was unable to access the funds. He was subsequently murdered at Auschwitz in September 1942.

Authorities discovered Gurlitt’s hidden trove of 1,590 artworks in 2012, during a two-year tax investigation. Concerns over the provenance of the collection—which included works by artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Édouard Manet, Paul Klee, Otto Dix, and Max Ernst—were raised immediately, given Hildebrand Gurlitt’s Nazi ties.

Carl Spitzweg, Das Klavierspiel (Piano Playing) (1840). Photo courtesy of the Augsburg Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Earlier efforts to track down the works were stymied by Gurlitt’s widowed mother, Helene Gurlitt, who lied to authorities in 1966, claiming that the entire collection was destroyed during the 1945 bombing of Dresden.

Upon Gurlitt’s death in 2014, he left his art holdings to Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum Bern, which vowed to return any stolen artworks. Since 2016, the German Lost Art Foundation, a government agency, has handled investigation into the collection’s provenance. Despite suspicions that as many as 500 pieces had suspicious provenances, only 14 works were definitively linked to the Nazis, and have all now been returned.

“Behind every one of these pictures stands a human, tragic fate such as that of Auschwitz victim Dr. Henri Hinrichsen,” German culture minister Monika Grütters said in a statement. “We cannot make up for this severe suffering, but we are trying with the appraisal of Nazi art looting to make a contribution to historical justice and fulfill our moral responsibility.”

Monika Grütters, Germany’s minister of culture, returns three works of art identified as Nazi looted art to Francine Kahn. Photo by Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images.

In the case of the Spitzweg, Germany has recommended the drawing be returned to the Hinrichsen family since 2014, but the drawn-out restitution process nevertheless took years to complete.

Hinrichsen’s granddaughter, Martha, who had sought recovery of the work, died in 2016, according to the Art Newspaper. The complexities of succession in the large family was part of the reason for the delay of the work’s return, according to Der Spiegel.

The drawing is now in possession of Christie’s at the request of Hinrichsen’s descendants. The auction house has not commented on the potential sale of the work.

Spitzweg’s record at auction for a work on paper is $56,026 (€46,250), according to the Artnet Price Database.

Dutch Panel for Looted Art Claims Must Change Course, Report Finds

A review commissioned by the Dutch culture minister found that the country’s art restitution panel showed too little empathy to victims of Nazi aggression and sided too often with museums.

AMSTERDAM — For years, the Netherlands was heralded as a leader in the effort to remedy the injustice of Nazi looting during World War II. It was praised for taking action to research stolen art and return it to its rightful owners.

But that reputation has been eroding over the last decade as a government panel that handles claims from victims and their heirs, the Dutch Restitutions Commission, has drawn criticism for decisions that some viewed as petty and unsympathetic.

Now, a committee convened by the minister of culture to assess the Restitutions Commission’s track record has concluded in a report issued Monday that the Dutch had essentially moved in the wrong direction.

The report avoids harsh criticism of the panel, and, at first glance, may seem like no more than an administrative course correction. But the findings were provocative enough that two of the panel’s seven members, including its chairman, immediately resigned.

At the center of the controversy is a policy adopted by the restitution panel in 2012 to “balance the interests” of claimants against those of museums.

Many Dutch institutions have housed stolen works since the war, when officials sent Nazi-looted works back to the countries they had been taken from, on the premise that the works would be returned to rightful owners once they were identified.

But after considering the “balance of interests,” the Dutch restitution panel in recent years has denied some claims, with the justification that the painting, sculpture or object in question had become more important to museums than to heirs.

Monday’s report recommends doing away with the “balance” test. It says the restitution panel needs to become “more empathic” and “less formalistic” in its responses to claims.

“If it’s looted art and there’s an heir, the interests of the museum shouldn’t be taken into account,” Jacob Kohnstamm, a lawyer who led the panel that wrote the report, said in a telephone interview. “We’re trying to strive for justice.”

The “balance of interests” policy has been widely criticized by international restitution experts, including Stuart E. Eizenstat, an adviser to the State Department and one of the architects of the Washington Principles, an international agreement that in 1998 established guidelines for countries on handling artworks looted during World War II.

In an opinion piece from 2018 in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, two leading international restitution experts called the Dutch government to task. It had, “dashed the hopes raised 20 years ago at the Washington Conference that fairness and justice would prevail and that looted property would be returned to its rightful owners,” they wrote.

The review panel led by Mr. Kohnstamm spent several months interviewing claimants, their attorneys, committee members, museum officials and outside restitution experts about the Dutch process. Its report suggests the government resume systematic research into the wartime history of artworks, in hopes of finding victims of Nazi looting or their heirs issue a clear set of guidelines to explain how the restitution process works and set up a “help desk” to guide claimants through.

Mr. Kohnstamm said that the review committee discovered there were at least 15 policy documents and letters to Parliament that outlined the Dutch rules for processing restitution claims, making it extremely difficult for an ordinary citizen to understand how their case would be judged.

The Restitutions Commission’s former chairman, Alfred Hammerstein, declined to comment on the reasons for his resignation.

The remaining members of the restitution panel said in a joint statement that they welcomed the “constructive recommendations in the report,” and would make “best efforts to adapt its working practices such that they are perceived as being less remote. This will include intensifying communication with applicants and formulating recommendations and decisions even more understandably.”

But Mr. Eizenstat, the State Department adviser, called the report into the commission’s work “damning.”

“It goes a very substantial way, if implemented, to rectify some of the concerns,” he said in a telephone interview. “It takes the Dutch policy back to its origins, which at the beginning were exemplary, and which had fallen into disrepair.”

Taco Dibbits, the director of the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum, said in a telephone interview that he hopes the Dutch government will adopt the recommendations. “We don’t want to have things in our museums that have a history of war crimes and robbery,” he said.

In particular, he said, he felt the balancing of interests was always inappropriate. “If I have a stolen bicycle and I ride it, and, at a certain point, the person from whom it was stolen asks for it back, I can’t say, ‘Actually I use it a lot, so I can’t give it back.’”

Because of their penchant for Dutch Golden Age art, which they felt represented a great Germanic tradition, the Nazis looted a tremendous amount of art from the Netherlands during World War II. Works were seized and looted, or sold under a guise of legality, as Jewish art dealers were pressured to both broker art sales and sell their own stores at drastically reduced prices, under threat of deportation, or death.

After the war, when the Allied Forces returned thousands of works of art to the Netherlands, the Dutch established the Netherlands Art Property Foundation, which returned several hundred items, and auctioned off about 4,000 works, among them 1,700 paintings.

It considered its work complete in 1951, and closed its doors. However, several thousand artworks had still not been returned and were placed in the Netherlands Art Property Collection, known as the N.K. In 1998, in addition to signing the Washington Principles, the Dutch government restarted the effort to return works by setting up the Origins Unknown Committee that actively researched the history of artworks and established a new policy for handling restitution.

But a major restitution of 202 works from the collection of the Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, in 2006, raised hackles from some in government. Newspaper opinion pieces said these works were too valuable to the Dutch public to leave the country.

Gert-Jan van den Bergh, a Dutch lawyer who has handled several international restitution cases, said the Goudstikker restitution was a turning point for the policymakers.

At that point, he said, “the Dutch state starts to claim ownership of the returned works, whereas, after the war, the Allies handed over the works with the very clear directive that the Dutch state regard themselves as no more than custodians until the rightful owners could be found.”

The Restitutions Committee, which started its work in 2002, has heard 163 cases involving 1,620 works of art, and it has ruled to return 588 works. But its critics say the panel began to increasingly weigh the state’s preference to retain art over the claimant’s evidence that the work was looted.

Origins Unknown wound up its activities and dissolved in 2007, as did its research into state collections, although the Dutch Museums Association obliged its members to check their own troves for art that might have been obtained unlawfully between 1933 and 1945.

The Restitutions Committee in 2012 added a new criterion for handling claims, known as “standards of reasonableness and fairness,” which was meant to balance the interests of national museums against a claimant’s bond with the art in question.

In 2013, when heirs of a German-Jewish refugee sought the return of the Bernardo Strozzi painting “Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well,” which is held by the Museum de Fundatie, the restitution panel rejected their request, saying, “retaining the painting is of major importance for the Museum’s collection and to the Museum’s visitors.”

More recently, in 2018, the Restitutions Commission rejected a claim for a Wassily Kandinsky “Painting with Houses,” which was sold by its Jewish owners in 1940, as they tried to escape the Netherlands after the Nazi invasion. The panel questioned whether the painting had truly been sold under duress created by the Nazis, versus other financial problems that predated the invasion, and ruled that the “heir has no special bond with it,” whereas “the work has a significant place in the Stedelijk Museum’s collection.”

James Palmer, the founder of the Mondex Corporation, an art restitution company that represents the claimants in the Kandinsky case, said that decision reflected, “the controlled and biased organization that is designed to retain artworks and other cultural artifacts and to blatantly ignore the claims of Holocaust victims.”

Mr. van den Bergh was one of the experts interviewed for the report released Monday. He said that the Netherlands’s reputation for responding to claimants used to be one of the best in Europe. “What happened is along the way we entered into a litigious atmosphere rather than a truth finding process,” he said.

“We have to go back to a process of truth finding, and not be entangled into a litigious atmosphere where the museums and the Dutch state were considered the opponents to the claimants,” he said. “We’re in this process together, and we’re in the process of healing historical injustice.”

Germany Reforms Commission for Nazi-Era Art Restitution After Criticism From Jewish Groups

Frühling im Gebirge/Kinderreigen by Hans Thoma was acquired by the Jewish collector couple Albert and Hedwig Ullmann when they bought the Villa Gerlach estate in Frankfurt am Main at the end of the 19th century, in a deal that included the property’s inventory of artworks. Following her husband’s death in 1912, Hedwig Ullmann was forced to sell her art collection under duress amid the Nazi persecution of Jews before fleeing Germany in 1938.

The artwork was subsequently bought at auction by the son of founder August Oetker and chief executive at the time Rudolf-August Oetker in 1954.

Ullmann’s heirs reportedly had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the painting until they were contacted by Dr. Oetker. David J. Rowland, the lawyer representing the heirs said Dr. Oetker’s actions were exemplary and an “outstanding example of a private collection” doing the “right thing.”

Dr. Oetker is one of Germany’s largest privately owned companies. Photo: courtesy Dr. Oetker.

“Our clients, the heirs of Albert and Hedwig Ullmann, want to acknowledge the commendable work of the Kunstsammlung Oetker,” Rowland said in a statement on behalf of the Ullmann heirs. “This is an outstanding example of a private collection doing the right thing regarding Nazi-looted art and sets a standard of best practice in this field. The Ullmann heirs are grateful to the Oetker Collection for returning the Thoma painting Springtime in the Mountains to them in such a responsible manner.”

Dr. Oetker has been conducting provenance research of its own collection since 2015 and the privately owned family business voluntarily follows the Washington Principles, despite the fact that the international restitution and compensation guidelines only apply to public collections.

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It was bought by Gurlitt's father Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who traded in works confiscated by the Nazis, in 1940.

The reclusive Cornelius Gurlitt, who died in 2014, had squirrelled away more than 1,200 works in his Munich apartment and 250 at a property in Salzburg, Austria.

He inherited much of the collection from his father. Authorities first stumbled on the art while investigating a tax case in February 2012.

Gurlitt's will bequeathed the works to a Swiss museum, the Kunstmuseum Bern.

A German government-backed foundation has been working with it to ensure that any pieces looted from Jewish owners are returned to their heirs.

German authorities have now handed over all 14 works proven to be looted by Nazis, including this Henr Matisse painting (pictured), from Cornelius Gurlitt's £1billion hoard found at his homes in Munich and Salzburg in 2012

One of the pieces of work discovered in his flat was this masterpiece by Franz Marc

Gurlitt's will bequeathed the works to a Swiss museum, the Kunstmuseum Bern. Pictured: A terracotta caryatid with an urn by French sculptor Auguste Rodin on display in the exhibition Gurlitt: Status Report Nazi Art Theft and its Consequences at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn in 2017

A trickle of works has been handed back in recent years as the painstaking process of provenance research made gradual progress.

Germany's culture minister, Monika Gruetters, said it was 'an important signal' that all the works so far identified as looted art have been restituted to their owners' heirs.

'Behind every one of these pictures stands a human, tragic fate such as that of Auschwitz victim Dr Henri Hinrichsen,' she said in a statement.

'We cannot make up for this severe suffering, but we are trying with the appraisal of Nazi art looting to make a contribution to historical justice and fulfil our moral responsibility.'

She stressed Germany's 'lasting commitment' to continue with that appraisal and provenance research.

A German government task force identified the drawing as looted in 2015 but legal complications meant its restitution could not be settled until now, Gruetters said.

Pieces by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse were found at the time.

Mr Gurlitt claimed all the paintings were legally acquired by his father, but at least 500 were previously thought to have been either stolen by the Nazis or strong-armed from Jewish collectors at rock-bottom prices.

His father was Nazi Germany’s leading expert on modern art, personally tasked by Hitler to sell paintings he despised abroad to help fund the Third Reich’s war effort.

However, Hildebrand Gurlitt secretly kept many of the pictures for himself.

The collection, which includes works by Picasso, Matisse and Dix was discovered inside his Munich apartment

Cornelius Gurlitt's house in Salzburg, Austria, where 60 works including Picassos, Renoirs and Monets were found

After the war, he was questioned by the American Army’s ‘Monuments Men’ unit but never charged with any crimes.

He lied that the bulk of his collection had been destroyed in the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.

In fact, the artworks survived intact and he passed them on to his son, a lifelong bachelor, who said before his death: ‘I never loved anything or anybody in life but my paintings.’

While only 14 of the 1,450 artworks have been proven to have been stolen by Nazis by the German Lost Art Foundation, the origin of around 1,000 pieces remain uncertain.

Gilbert Lupfer, director of the German Lost Art Foundation told DW: 'There is a large grey zone.

'Many questions remain unanswered since there are not many sources of information left, nearly a century later.'

Who was Hitler's art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt?

Hildebrand Gurlitt was a Nazi art historian, dealer who dealt in 'degenerate' art during Hitler's Third Reich.

He purchased hundreds of paintings stolen during raids of Jewish homes, businesses and art shops in Germany and Nazi-occupied France.

Gurlitt was an 'official dealer' for Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels and was later found to be a 'war profiteer'.

He was instructed by other top Nazi officials to collect artwork for Hitler's 'Fuhrermuseum', which was never built.

Over the years he acquired more than 1,500 paintings, including works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Auguste Rodin, giving some to the authorities and keeping others for himself.

After the war, he was questioned by the American Army's 'Monuments Men' unit but never charged with any crimes. He lied that the bulk of his collection had been destroyed in the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.

He went on to be the Director of the Art Association for the Rhineland and Westphalia until his death in a car crash at the age of 61 in November 1956.

His son Cornelius inherited the collection and tried to sell pieces of to support himself in later life.

He gained worldwide notoriety after a raid of his Munich apartment uncovered more than 1,400 of his father's stolen paintings in 2012.


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