Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
Saint George (c. 1525)
mixed media on lindenwood panel,
16.22 x 10.83 in. (41.20 x 27.50 cm)
Before the war, Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Saint George could be found in the Anhalt Picture Gallery Dessau (Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau). As the Allied bombing campaigns increased, the artistic contents of the German museums were evacuated for safekeeping. Saint George, along with another Cranach, were relocated to the remote forester's lodge Uhlenstein (Forsthaus Uhlenstein), in the Uhlenbachtal Valley. In the chaos of the final days of the war, the property was left unattended. This painting has not been seen since, and is thought to have been the victim of looting.
Between mid-1942 and the beginning of 1943, works of art from the Anhalt Picture Gallery were housed in remote villages in the Harz mountains in the assumption that they would be safe, outside of the radius of the air-raid threatened cities. These remote country properties were deemed out of the way enough to shelter the cities’ most important artistic pieces and archival records, and the collection was split up to reduce the amount of damage inflicted if one property was found.
However, a remote location does not come without its own risks. The isolated nature of these country houses meant there was often a lack of supervision of both the conditions and security of the paintings, and the danger of damage and theft was therefore inevitable. Several of the repositories were visited by restorers in August 1943, in which some of the paintings were noted to have mould growth due to excessive humidity.
While the exact dates of transport are not known, the paintings were not moved before July 1942 and most likely before early 1943 according to correspondence and insurance documentation. Until that point, they had most likely been kept in Zerbst Castle, with the other most valuable pieces. The collection was relocated to a variety of structures, including parsonages, forester’s lodges, and schools. They were almost all owned by the then State of Anhalt and had a local person who was in charge of overseeing maintenance.
From all accounts, these paintings were kept safely in these locations for at least two years. However, in the chaos of the last days of the war, many people fled from the approaching Allied and Red armies. In the case of Cranach’s Saint George, we do not know if someone was looking after the Uhlenstein property where it was being held, but without supervision, this property was looted in the last days of the war.
It is unclear how this painting disappeared from the storage premises, but it was presumably looted, most likely by either locals, displaced persons, or soldiers. A Cranach workshop painting, The Judgement of Paris, was stored with Saint George in the forester's lodge Uhlenstein. Both paintings, packed in crates no. 12 and 13, were removed from the premises. The workshop painting was stolen by a twenty-five year old woman at the end of the war, when she fled to the forester's lodge. A large fragment of this painting was returned to the Anhalt Picture Gallery in 1988, but the left portion of the painting remains missing.
The missing works from these remote sites are mainly small or medium size, they could have easily been carried and hidden, and are predominantly by major German, Flemish and Dutch artists of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.