Art Restitution Cases
Many art restitution cases, involving works of art looted or sold under duress during World War II, have been successfully resolved between claimants and current owners. The restitution process has seen significant progress, especially after the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, which introduced the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.
The Monuments Men and Women Foundation remains hopeful that both claimants and current owners, whether they are museums or private individuals, will persist in their efforts to seek equitable and fair resolutions to the ongoing art restitution issues.
Studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder
Bouquet of Flowers in a Clay Vase
Bouquet of Flowers in a Clay Vase from the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder was originally owned by Viennese Jewish merchant Julius Kien. When Austria was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1938, Kien was forced to declare his assets and soon after sold some artworks, including this floral still-life, to art dealer Hinrichsen in Berlin. Fritz Thyssen bought the painting from Hinrichsen, but in October 1939, the Nazis confiscated his collection and stored the works in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn and the Museum Folkwang in Essen.
After the war, the artworks were slowly returned to Fritz Thyssen’s wife and daughter. However in 1987, the Free State of Bavaria signed a contract of sale for the acquisition of the Fritz Thyssen art collection, and in 1992, several paintings, including the picture Bouquet of Flowers in a Clay Vase, entered the collection of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. It was only when they began to prepare for a major exhibition on Brueghel, that the museum thoroughly examined the painting and noticed labels on the revers which showed that Julius Kien had once been the owner of the still-life.
Having been sold under duress, Julius Kien’s heirs were entitled to claim and obtain the painting back. On July 10, 2012 the painting was returned to Jennifer Kien, a grand-daughter of Kien from Jerusalem who lives in Australia.
Christ Carrying the Cross
Girolamo Romanino’s Christ Carrying the Cross was on loan at the Mary Brogan Museum in Tallahassee, Florida, when U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh seized it in November 2011.
The painting had arrived in Florida in March 2011 along with other 49 paintings from the Pinacoteca di Brera, a government-run museum in Milan, for an exhibition on Baroque paintings in North Italy. It had belonged to the Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, a Jewish Italian living in Paris, whose collection was sold by the Nazi-controlled French authorities in 1941. It entered the Italian collections in 1998, when the government purchased it from a private owner and decided to hang it in the Pinacoteca di Brera. Gentili’s heirs asked for their picture back but the Italian museum ignored their request.
When the Romanino entered the United States, Interpol was alerted and U.S. authorities seized the painting. The New York Times reported that Italian authorities thought that its “strong laws shielding government collections would protect it from seizure elsewhere” and that they “were livid” about the confiscation. The painting was returned to the heirs of Federico Gentili on April 18, 2012 and it was sold at auction by Christie’s on June 6, 2012 for $ 4.5 million.
Litzlberg am Attersee
Painted in 1915 by Gustav Klimt, Litzlberg am Attersee was seized by the Nazis from the apartment of Amalie Redlich in a village near Vienna, Austria. Redlich was deported to Poland, where she died in October 1941 in a concentration camp. In 1944, Salzburg art collector and dealer Friedrich Welz bought the painting and exchanged it for a piece from Salzburg's state gallery. It was subsequently passed on to the state gallery's successor, the Salzburger Residenzgalerie, in 1952 and later became part of the inventory of Salzburg's modern art museum (Museum der Moderne Salzburg).
In 2009, the Salzburg Museum declared to be in possession of at least 15 paintings with unclear provenance. When Georges Jorisch, Redlich's 83-year-old grandson, claimed the painting, the museum’s director Toni Stooss and Salzburg Deputy Governor Wilfried Haslauer were very collaborative to guarantee its return. The painting, which could be worth as much as €30m ($44m), was returned to Mr. Jorish on April 21, 2011.
Salomon van Ruysdael
Ferry Boat with cattle on the River Vecht near Nijenrode
In February 2006, after years of pressing restitution claims, the Dutch government finally returned over 200 pictures to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, one of Amsterdam’s leading Old Master art dealer and connoisseur before and during World War II. This beautiful oil on panel by Salomon van Ruysdael, titled Ferry Boat with cattle on the River Vecht near Nijenrode, was just one of them.
In 1940, with the Nazi Germany occupation of the Netherlands, Jacques Goudstikker and his family were forced to flee their country, leaving behind all of their belongings including 1,400 works of art. However, what Goudstikker did bring with him was a black notebook that meticulously recorded over 1,000 of his paintings. This notebook has proved essential in the search for his lost stock decades later. Goudstikker’s collection was looted by Reichmarschall Hermann Göring and brought back to Germany. At the end of the war, about 280 of Goudstikker’s paintings were returned by the Allies to the Dutch authorities; however, they did not return them to the family as expected, but rather incorporated them into the Dutch national collection.
The legal battle to return these paintings to Marei von Saher, the widow of Edouard (“Edo”), the only son of Desirée (“Desi”) and Jacques Goudstikker started in 1998 and lasted eight years. At last, the Dutch government, advised by its Restitution Committee, resolved the claim by restituting the work to Von Saher. Over 100 of the 200 works returned to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker were offered for sale through Christie’s in New York, London and Amsterdam in 2007. Van Ruysdael’s Ferry Boat with cattle on the River Vecht near Nijenrodewas sold by Christie’s in New York on April 19, 2007 for approximately $2.3 million dollars.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
The painting is a masterpiece of Klimt’s gilded phase showing Adele Bloch-Bauer, a very cultivated Viennese woman who had her portrait done by the Austrian symbolist painter in 1907. Adele died in 1925 and the painting was donated to the Austrian National Gallery, as stated in her will. However, in March 1938, Hitler’s confiscation of works of art reached occupied Austria and the gallery handed its collections over to the Führer, including the Bloch-Bauers’ works of art.
Fifty years later, in 1998, having heard of the Nazi dispersal of her family’s art collection, Adele Bloch-Bauer’s grandniece, Maria Altmann, hired an attorney to investigate the Nazi theft of her family’s Klimt collection. Five paintings from the Austrian National Gallery were asked to be returned and after an eight-year legal battle, to everyone’s surprise, an Austrian mediation panel agreed to return Klimt’s portrait and other four paintings to 90-year-old Maria Altmann and other heirs.
On November 2006, Baron Ronald S. Lauder bought the portrait of Adele for $135 million. It is now on permanent display at Lauder's Neue Galerie in New York.
Portrait of a Lady with a Dog
This very small painting is a portrait of Eleonora of Toledo (1522-1562), wife of Cosimo de Medici I, the first Duke of Florence. It was most likely painted in the 1570s after Eleonora’s death, and it is generally attributed to Alessandro Allori (1535-1607), pupil of Agnolo Bronzino.
The painting was first noted as missing in 1944, and for the following 50 years, it was believed to be lost or destroyed. Instead, it was in the possession of Charles Wheeler, a distinguished Berlin correspondent of the BBC’s German Service. In the 1950s, Wheeler interacted with several listeners in the Soviet Occupation Zone, including a farmer from near Frankfurt an der Oder, who gave him the painting as a wedding gift. The farmer had received the painting from a Russian soldier in exchange for two sacks of potatoes to make vodka with. In 2005, it was by chance that Wheeler showed his beloved painting to Anne Webber and the team of The Commission for Looted Art in Europe during research for a BBC program about the loss of works of art during World War II. After thorough research carried out at German museums and archives, the provenance of the painting was established and the Gemäldegalerie recognized its long-lost painting.
Charles Wheeler immediately expressed the wish to return the painting to its rightful owner, and the painting was indeed returned to the Berlin Gemäldegalerie by the Commission for Looted Art and Charles Wheeler on May 31, 2006. It was the first work of art published in the
Gemäldegalerie’s catalogue of war losses (1995) to be identified and returned to the Berlin museum. As Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, declared: “The return of this painting today gives us hope that other lost paintings will be returned.”
Glaucus and Scylla
Jewish art collectors Anna and John Jeffé bought Turner’s Glaucus and Scyllain in 1902 and owned it until 1943, when the pro-Nazi Vichy government seized it from them and sold it at an auction of “Jewish property.” It resurfaced in 1956, when Emile Leitz of Paris sold it to a London dealer. One year later, it was purchased by the Howard Young Galleries in New York and sold to a Mrs. Chamberlain, who owned it until 1966, when the Newhouse Gallery, also from New York, came in its possession and sold it to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. It was among the first works of art bought by Richard Brown, the museum’s director, and at the time its provenance information had no references to Nazi confiscation or forced sales.
Surfing the web, Alain Monteagle, a French high school history teacher and one of 13 heirs searching for the family’s stolen property, learned that a Turner seascape named Glaucus and Scylla was one of the highlights of the Kimbell Art Museum. In September 2005, Mr. Monteagle contacted the museum asking for the Turner to be returned to his family. After several months of discussions between the Kimbell and the Jaffé heirs, it was agreed that the Turner would hang in the museum until June 25, 2006 and then be returned to its legitimate owners. Turner’s painting was auctioned as part of Christie’s Old Master paintings sale in New York, on April 19, 2007, where it was re-acquired by the museum for almost $6.5 million dollars.
Oriental Woman Seated on the Floor
Matisse’s Oriental Woman Seated on the Floor (also known as Odalisque) was one of approximately 162 paintings confiscated in 1941 by the Nazi authorities from Paul Rosenberg, a prominent Jewish art dealer based in Paris. The painting made its way to the United States in 1954, when the New York art gallery Knoedler & Co. acquired it from the Paris based Galerie Drouant-David and then immediately sold it to Prentice and Virginia Bloedel. Almost 40 years later, the Bloedel family bequeathed the painting to the Seattle Art Museum.
In 1997, through fortuitous circumstances, the heirs of Paul Rosenberg discovered the location of their long-lost painting. At first, the Seattle Art Museum refused to return the painting but obtained a “tolling agreement” to gain some time to evaluate the situation. Through research and independent investigation by the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, the museum determined the exact provenance of Matisse’s painting, matching the records of Paul Rosenberg’s heirs. In June 1999, the Seattle Art Museum returned the painting to the heirs of Paul Rosenberg.
On April 19, 1945, American troops occupied Quedlinburg, south-west of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. They were ordered to guard some treasures of art secured in a mine near the castle Altenburg. The treasures included medieval artworks and manuscripts (among them being Gospel of Samuel and the Crystals of Costantinople) belonging to the town’s church.
U.S. Lieutenant Joe Tom Meador was responsible for the security of the cave. With a good knowledge of art, Meador immediately understood the importance of the treasure and managed to take the items away from the cave hiding them under his coat. He mailed the artworks home, to Whitewright, Texas, and had them placed in a safe at the city’s First National Bank.
Meador died in 1980, and his heirs tried to sell ten pieces of looted treasure on the international art market. In 1990, a Bavarian art dealer sold to West Germany’s Cultural Foundation of the State a ninth-century manuscript of the Four Gospels in a gold and silver binding it was immediately identified as part of the Quedlinburg Treasure. Other manuscripts surfaced in the following months.
After a long search and judicial processes, the art was returned to Germany in 1992. The recovered treasures were exhibited in Munich and Berlin, and in 1993, they were finally returned to Quedlinburg. However, two of the pieces stolen by Meador are still in the United States at an unknown location.
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Hercules and Antaeus and Hercules and the Hydra
In 1944, the two small panels by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Hercules and Antaeus and Hercules and the Hydra, were taken by 362° German Infantry Division from the villa at Montagnana near Florence, where much of the Uffizi collection had been stored during the war. After 19 years, in 1963, the two paintings were found in the possession of a German waiter in Pasadena, California.
The Italian government sent a delegation headed by Minister Rodolfo Siviero, the art detective who spent his life discovering and recovering stolen Italian works of art, and Luisa Becherucci, then director of the Uffizi, to recover them. The panels were first exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for six days, then at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC for one week before they returned to the place they had been since 1789, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.