Bust of Isabella d'Este
In 2011, the Monuments Men Foundation discovered a photograph that suggested a rare terracotta portrait bust, owned by the Kimbell Art Museum, had been acquired by the Nazis and was in all likelihood, destined to become part of Hitler’s collection in the Führermuseum.
Discovery and Research
The discovery of the photograph of the bust sparked further investigation into the workʼs provenance.
The Monuments Men found this work among thousands of others in the Alt Aussee salt mine during the closing days of the war. The Foundation worked with Dr. Eric Lee, Director of the Kimbell Art Museum, and Nancy Edwards, the Kimbell’s Curator of European Art and Head of Academic Services, to affirm its ownership of the bust and clarify the provenance.
"We were intrigued but also apprehensive to discover that our sculpture was among the looted items in the salt mine,” commented Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum. “The Museum has a policy of returning works of art if it is learned that they were improperly sold or looted in continental Europe during the Nazi era, and I was relieved to learn that the Kimbell would not have to do so in this case, since there was documentation to prove that the work had been properly purchased."
Nancy Edwards, the Kimbellʼs Curator of European Art and Head of Academic Services conducted research at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. She discovered that the bust was included in the 1941 sale to Hitler and then taken to the salt mine for safekeeping. Five years after the Lanz collection, of which the Bust was a part of, returned to the Netherlands, some items thought at the time to be of lesser importance were auctioned, and the family was able to buy a number of them back. Otto Lanzʼs daughter, Anna Gertud Lanz Kijzer, purchased the bust as a gift to her brother Dr. A. B. Lanz. Because the bustʼs authenticity had long been questioned, Kijzer was able to purchase it for only 35 guilders (approximately $10).
In 1973, John Pope-Hennessey wrote a letter to Dr. A. B. Lanz attributing the work to Gian Cristoforo Romano and expressing an interest in purchasing it for the Victoria and Albert Museum. A 1973 thermoluminescence (carbon test) report conducted at Oxford University
established a bracket date of c. 1408–1538 for the firing of the terracotta, affirming its creation during the Renaissance period. It was sold to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Lugano, Switzerland, that same year. In 2002, the work was purchased by the London dealer Daniel Katz, who sold it to the Kimbell in 2004.
The Kimbell Art Museum once again handled a Nazi-era provenance case in the most exemplary manner.