Edgar Degas (1834–1917)
Combing the Hair (c. 1890-95)
pastel, 13.03 x 16.26 in. (33.10 x 41.30 cm)
Degas’s Combing the Hair was owned by Friedrich “Fritz” Bernhard Eugen Gutmann (1886-1944), a German-Dutch banker and art collector who was targeted by the Nazi regime and perished in the Theresienstadt ghetto and concentration camp. Fritz continued his family’s banking tradition—his father had established the Dresdner Bank in 1872—in the Netherlands, working for Proehl & Gutmann, the Dutch branch of the Dresdner Bank, and then founding his own private bank, Firma FB Gutmann, in Amsterdam. He acquired an impressive art collection in the early interwar period. His residence, Bosbeek, in Heemstede, outside of Amsterdam, featured paintings by the Old Masters such as Memling and Botticelli, and modern Impressionist works, including those by Renoir and Degas. Fritz also inherited his father’s collection.
Fritz and his wife Louise sent their children abroad for their own safety with relatives in Italy and England when the political atmosphere began to shift in the 1930s, but they themselves remained in the Netherlands for some time after. Although the Gutmann family had converted from Judaism in the late nineteenth century, the Nazis still considered Fritz ethnically Jewish.
As the likelihood of war with Germany was increasing quickly, Fritz decided to split his collection to best protect it. He sent some works to New York, but the best were to be split between Paris and his residence in Heemstede. In April 1939, he sent some twenty-five paintings, several sculptures, and some valuable furniture from his collection to the art dealership of Paul Graupe & Cie., on 16, Place Vendôme, Paris. Paul Graupe was a Jewish art dealer who fled Germany in 1936 along with his business partner Arthur Goldschmidt.
The German authorities in Paris targeted Graupe from the onset of the occupation in June 1940. Graupe had placed a large proportion of the Gutmann collection for safekeeping at a warehouse located at 236, boulevard Raspail, which was owned by a Mme. Wacker-Bondy. Many of these works were registered under the name “MUIR," as any Jewish-sounding name would be immediately suspected by the officers of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the primary Nazi looting agency in France.
Meanwhile, in the early years of the 1940s, Fritz and Louise had been effectively placed under house arrest and had no power to stop the string of Nazi agents that would invade and strip them of their collection one work at a time. In March 1941, German art dealer, and a preferred dealer of Hitler and the Nazis, Karl Haberstock, arrived at Bosbeek with special authorization documents from the Special Linz Commission and Hermann Göring and a non-negotiable demand for artworks. Fritz had no alternative but to sign away eight Old Master paintings and four additional works. Haberstock left the Netherlands with the four additional works, but the eight paintings were already stored at the Wacker-Bondy warehouse in Paris. Haberstock’s collection and shipping of those works were complicated by the fact that Graupe and Goldschmidt had fled Paris. Eventually, he hunted down Goldschmidt in the south of France, who authorized the release of the works from the warehouse.
However, this was not the only time Haberstock arrived unannounced at Bosbeek. In February 1942 he returned, this time with Julius Böhler, another Nazi-associated art dealer. Together they compiled a list of over two hundred valuables to be removed from the residence. Then in March, only a month after his second visit, he once again appeared with directives from Göring, this time to take the Gutmann silver and to inventory the rest of the estate. The Gutmanns at this point still hoped that they would be able to flee and join the rest of their family, either in Italy or England, however this was not to be the case. Fritz even made a written appeal for protection to Heinrich Himmler, but to no avail.
On November 6, 1942, the remaining works of the Gutmann collection at the Wacker-Bondy warehouse were confiscated and transported to the Jeu de Paume to be inventoried by the ERR. These had been the works registered under “MUIR” and to this point had escaped attention by Nazi officials—other Gutmann works connected to Graupe had been seized two years prior at the beginning of the occupation. Among the works removed in 1942 was the Degas pastel Combing the Hair. It is believed that this work was marked as “too modern” and as a potential exchange work. From Paris, the pastel was shipped to Schloss Nikolsburg, a castle in Nazi Germany that acted as an art repository, in May 1944 before disappearing. The majority of the collection at Nikolsburg was evacuated to the Altaussee salt mine which was discovered by the Monuments Men in May 1945. There, other works from the Gutmann collection were found, but not the Degas, which has not been seen since. The work may have been looted from a repository or sold on the European art market.
In May 1943, SS officials arrived for Fritz and Louise. They were told that they would be taking the train to Italy, via Berlin, to join their daughter and son-in-law. However, they never made it out of Germany. The couple was taken to Theresienstadt, where Fritz was beaten to death in the “Small Fortress” in Terezín in April 1944. Louise was murdered in Auschwitz that July.
The Gutmann children, Bernard and Lili, returned to the Netherlands after the war and found their parents’ home stripped of everything it had once contained. They launched restitution filings with the Dutch, French, German, and British authorities, and while some success was found between 1954 and 1960, hundreds of pieces are still missing. Bernard’s sons, Nick and Simon, did not find out about their father’s quest until after his death, and have since continued it as their own. In 2015, Simon Goodman published The Orpheus Clock, a book detailing his ongoing quest to find his family’s treasures.