Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)
Crucifixion with Mary, Mary Magdalene, and
St. Francis of Assisi
oil on panel, 19.49 x 14.17 in. (49.50 x 36 cm)
Prior to its forced sale due to Nazi persecution, Crucifixion with Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. Francis of Assisi by the Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck belonged to German art collector and art dealer Dr. Max Stern (1904-1987).
Stern was born in München-Gladbach (today, Mönchengladbach), Germany, in 1904. He was the youngest child and only son of Julius and Selma Stern. His father was a textile manufacturer who shifted his focus to art collecting and dealing and opened the Galerie Julius Stern in Düsseldorf in 1913, exposing a young Max to art and nurturing his interests. Stern studied at several universities and eventually earned a PhD in art history from Bonn University in 1928. He then promptly joined the gallery staff and assumed management shortly before his father’s death. When Julius died in October 1934, Stern inherited the gallery—renaming it Galerie Stern—but never saw it thrive as it had been increasingly threatened by the rise of National Socialism and anti-Semitic culture in Germany since 1933.
In September 1933, the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture or RKK) was established with the department Reichskammer der bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of Fine Arts or RKdbK). When Stern later applied for the compulsory membership into the RKdbK so he could continue dealing, he was denied admission in August 1935. Stern could no longer legally practice his profession in Germany and his Düsseldorf business was ordered to close and dissolve. He took advantage of a suspension of the order, attempting to save his business through a quasi-Aryanization scheme, but his requests were consistently rejected.
The van Dyck was in Stern’s collection between 1934 and 1936, and he was forced to sell the painting as a result of his continuing persecution by the Nazi regime. By September 1937, the German authorities had had enough and issued the final closure order—albeit, ultimately with an extension date—stipulating that no further appeals from Stern would be entertained. By then, Stern had also sold the two buildings that had housed Galerie Stern. That November, his inventory of 228 artworks was placed for auction at Math. Lempertz auction house in Cologne. Those that didn’t sell at Lempertz would have to be sold by Stern himself. The proceeds generated by the sale of property and assets were never utilized by Stern to start a new life in London, but rather returned to the Reich as compulsory payment. Except for his library, which he was able to ship to London, Stern and his mother’s collection of artworks were mostly left in the stewardship of Josef Roggendorf in Cologne, who owned a logistics company, and were prohibited from being exported from Germany. A few paintings remained with Lempertz.
Just before Christmas 1937, Stern departed Düsseldorf for Paris a defeated man. After several weeks in Paris with his sister Gerda, Stern settled in London, joining his sister Hedwig at the West’s Galleries. The artworks left in Cologne were confiscated by the Gestapo, which had been well-informed of Stern’s status by the RKdbK and were following his activities. Some were then handed to a lesser-known auction house to be sold.
Stern’s time at the West’s Galleries was short-lived. When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, he soon became an enemy alien and was detained in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. His internment was transferred to Canada and after two years in custody he was released on the word of William Birks, who was associated with the Canadian National Committee on Refugees, and settled in Montreal. There, Stern rebuilt his life through the commercial art trade, eventually buying and transforming the Dominion Gallery and transforming the Canadian art market. A year prior to Stern owning the gallery, he married Iris Ester Westerberg from Malmö, Sweden. She would be her husband’s business partner for decades until her death in 1978.
Van Dyck’s Crucifixion resurfaced in the Alte Kunst sale at Lempertz auction house on November 14, 1962, as lot 36. Painted after Van Dyck’s altarpiece in Notre Dame Church, Dendermonde, Belgium, it is one of three that exist, the other two being at the Courtauld Gallery in London, UK, and the Museo Civico in Cremona, Italy.