Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto (1697-1768)
The Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice (18th century)
oil on canvas, 29.13 x 48.82 in. (74 x 124 cm)
Canaletto’s The Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice was owned by Jewish textile manufacturer, Bernhard Altmann. Born in Przemyśl, in the Habsburg Empire (now Poland) on December 23, 1888, Bernhard’s father, Karl Chaskel Altmann, was also in the textile business. Living and working in Vienna, Bernhard had started his business in 1919 and by 1938 it had locations in Moscow, Paris, and Liverpool, with more than 1000 employees total.
The Anschluss of March 12, 1938 annexed Austria to Nazi Germany. With the German army came Germany’s discriminatory laws against the Jewish population. Bernhard’s business was swiftly “Aryanized”, the process by which confiscated Jewish assets were transferred to non-Jewish custody, and the artworks in his home on Kopfgasse 1 in Vienna were seized by the Gestapo. The collection, which included four Canalettos, was auctioned through the state-owned Dorotheum auction house in two sessions; from June 17-22, and from July 19-21, 1938. The Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice failed to sell both times (as lots 135 and 129 respectively), and was finally sold at a sale in Cologne with the Lempertz auction house, lot 658, between April 21-24, 1939. Proceeds of the sale went to the Reich.
Bernhard managed to flee Austria for Liverpool via Paris in 1938 and helped several of his family members do the same. His brother Fritz Altmann, married to Maria Altmann, was detained in the Dachau concentration camp by the Nazis, and Bernhard was only able to get him released by signing over his business. Once settled in Liverpool, he tried reopening his company, but due to the UK Enemy Alien Act of 1939, he was unable to do so. He left for the US shortly afterwards, where he started his own company yet again, this time in Fall River, Rhode Island. This venture did not succeed and by 1941 he was working in New York for $50 a week.
On March 3, 1943, he started a yarn trading business, and in 1947 he added cashmere fiber to his products. Based in Texas, this company did extremely well, and by 1951 it is believed that his company outsold all the Scottish manufacturers, and that one in three cashmere sweaters sold in America came from Altmann. Bernhard retired in 1950 and returned to live in Austria until his death in Zurich in 1960.
A number of works of art from Bernhard’s impressive art collection have been found through the years and returned to his heirs, including one of the four Canalettos seized by the Gestapo. Discovered at the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Strasbourg, A View of La Salute in Venice had been donated to the museum by two collectors, who had in turn purchased it from Hermann Voss, the second director after Hans Posse of the Dresden State Collections whom Hitler had appointed to direct the collection he was amassing for his Führer-Museum in Linz. An agreement was reached with the heirs to keep the painting in the museum’s collection. The other three Canalettos are still missing.