Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919)
Head of a Young Girl (Gabrielle) (1895)
oil on canvas, 19.09 x 15.55 in. (48.50 x 39.50 cm)
Head of a Young Girl (Gabrielle) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir hung in the Berlin apartment of Jewish businessman Manfred Nachmann until its disappearance in 1938. Nachmann was the director of the Former Ingnatz Meumann AG before he, his wife Franziska, and their young children, Gerald and Ilse, were persecuted and forced into exile by the Nazis in 1938. They immigrated to the United States in October 1938 with Manfred and Franziska becoming naturalized citizens in April 1944.
On 2 July 1938, shortly after the United States issued visas to the family, the possessions of their home at Brückenallee 2 were packed by forwarding firm Edmund Franzkowiak & Co. under the presence of German authorities. The shipment was later transferred to Allgemeine Transportgesellschaft (formerly Gondrand & Mangili mbH) intended for the Holland America Line in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. When the Nachmann family collected their personal belongings months later in New York, a crate was missing. Its contents were four paintings—the Renoir, a painting by Pissarro, and two paintings by Lesser Ury. These paintings had mysteriously disappeared during their flight.
The attorney for Manfred Nachmann, John H. Maass, wrote the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) Section in June 1946, filing a claim on behalf of his client for the Renoir and a Pissarro painting. The Monuments Men were subsequently notified of the two Lesser Ury paintings, adding them to the Nachmann claim. For the next two years, the claim passed through several regional branches of the MFAA in Germany and Austria. The Munich Central Collecting Point and the Wiesbaden Collecting Point were searched, and an investigation was launched into the circumstances of the disappearance of the paintings. Every effort resulted in dead ends. The paintings weren’t and had never been at the two collecting points. The two German firms MFAA investigators approached—Kühne & Nagel, in Hamburg, and Allgemeine Transportgesellschaft in Berlin—could not supply records, claiming they had been lost in bombings and fire. With all viable options exhausted, the MFAA transferred the case to the Central Filing Agency at Bad Nauheim in the fall of 1948. The case was officially dropped in January 1949, but the Nachman family continued the investigation.
Three generations of the Nachman family have been searching for nearly eight decades for the missing paintings, scouring war records cataloged in the United States National Archives, culling through warehouse inventories from Germany, and visiting individuals that may have information that could lead to a break in the case. They have sought professional assistance from lawyers, private investigators, and art restitution professionals. This Renoir even appeared on Interpol's “12 Most Wanted List” in 1979.