Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828)
Picadors with Bulls Before a Tower (1787)
oil on canvas, 62.99 x 110.63 in. (160 x 281 cm)

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Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’s Picadors with Bulls Before a Tower (1787) was commissioned for the Duke of Osuna, a Spanish aristocrat, for La Alameda Castle (Castillo de la Alameda) in Madrid. It was auctioned in 1896, and by 1917 it had entered the collection of Baron Mór Lipót Herzog, a Jewish Hungarian banker. Based in Budapest, Baron Herzog had been collecting art for many years, and by the time of his death in 1934, he had acquired a large and impressive collection of Old Master and Impressionist works. His collection was also one of the largest private collections of El Greco in the world. Following their parents’ deaths, the Herzog Collection was willed to their daughter, Erzsébet Weiss de Csepel (née Herzog), and their two sons, István and András. This Goya painting was given to Erzsébet.

 

On November 20, 1940, Hungary signed the Tripartite Pact, becoming the fourth member of the Axis powers. Hungary aligned itself with the fascist governments of the Axis powers, as it was economically dependent on trade with those nations and could benefit from their territorial gains and protection. Although the nature of its collaboration with Nazi Germany is complicated, Hungary implemented anti-Semitic legislation. Initially, Hungarian Jews were mostly protected from the deportation orders that were being issued in other countries across Europe. However, the new laws prevented many from the Jewish community from participating in public and economic life. When Hungary’s allegiance shifted to the Allies, Nazi Germany invaded in March 1944 and occupied the country to maintain its loyalty. SS commander Adolf Eichmann implemented the “Final Solution,” escalating the persecution and extermination of Hungarian Jews. He personally carried out the orders to deport Hungary’s Jews to extermination camps. It is estimated that some 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. For the Herzog family, tragedy had already hit them before Eichmann arrived in Budapest. András Herzog had been captured and perished on the Eastern Front as a Jewish forced laborer in early 1943.

 

For the remaining members of the Herzog family, the anti-Semitic laws finally closed in on them. In April 1944, the Hungarian government issued Decree 1600/1944, which required Jews to register their property and assets valued in excess of 10,00 pengő. Decree 1800/1944, issued the following month, established the Commission for the Recording and Safeguarding of Impounded Art Objects of Jews and required all Jews to register their works of arts and other valuables including anthropological objects, precious stones and minerals, and archival materials. Further decrees forcibly removed Jews from their homes and seized their assets, which they no longer held rights to.

 

To avoid these decrees, the Herzogs deposited some of their property in several locations, including bank vaults, but much remained in the family’s residences. The family tried to hide some of the art collection in the cellar of one of the family’s factories, however it was found by the State Security Service and taken to the Majestic Hotel, the headquarters of Eichmann, for his inspection. Select works were shipped to Germany, while the remainder was transported to the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest for “safekeeping” by the Hungarian government. This was the fate of many works of the Herzog collection. In the summer of 1944, the Commission seized a significant portion of the collection that remained in their Budapest villas. Picadors with Bulls Before a Tower was removed from the Herzog-Weiss Villa. It is unknown by whom and precisely when. It may have subsequently been smuggled out of Hungary or removed by the Soviet Red Army when it captured Budapest in February 1945. It has not been seen since 1944.

 

Erzsébet and her children made it out of Hungary in May 1944, while her husband, Alfonz, was held in Austria as a hostage. Reunited finally in the United States, they would become naturalized citizens in the early 1950s. Following the war, Alfonz contacted American military authorities hoping to recover his wife’s missing property that was taken abroad after confiscation—the Allies had returned Herzog works to Hungary in the late 1940s. In 1950, he even took out an ad with the German magazine Weltkunst featuring some of the lost works.

 

During the Cold War, it was difficult for the Herzog family to obtain any information from the Hungarian government regarding the fate of some of their works. With the democratization of Hungary and the fall of the USSR, the family discovered that some of their lost works were being exhibited in two museums in Budapest, the Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum. These specific paintings were returned to Hungary from Germany by the MFAA with the museums acting as custodians until restitution to the rightful owners. Even after the Herzog family came forward in the 1990s to finally reclaim their property, the result has been years of legal battles with a Hungarian government that has constantly denied the family their property rights.

 

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Courtesy of the Heirs/ Representatives.

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