Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino
Hercules and Omphale
Oil on canvas, 37.40 x 27.56 in. (95 x 70 cm)
Hercules and Omphale by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) hung in a three-story, palatial villa on one of the many hills of the western banks of the Danube River not too far from Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary. Today, the structure houses the Institute of Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, but prior to World War II, it was the lavish residence of a branch of the Hatvany family.
The Hatvanys began taking up a variety of enterprises in the mid-19th century; none more important than sugar production, which they grew into an agricultural and industrial empire in Hungary, earning the family an aristocratic title for their economic successes. Baron József Hatvany-Deutsch purchased the massive villa at Werbőczy utca 7 for his family in 1913. The baron and baroness had four children: Lili, Endre, Antonia, and Bernard. Baroness Fanny Hatvany owned an impressive collection of porcelain housed in its own dedicated room along with numerous fine paintings that hung amongst the exquisite Baroque and Rococo interiors.
Just months after the Hatvanys acquired the house, the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire was plunged into World War I and then successive communist revolutions. Members of the family fled to other European nations for safety. The family again dispersed during World War II, except for Fanny and her eldest son, Endre. They remained in the family's residence until 1944, when the property was seized during the Nazi occupation of Hungary and became a billet for Waffen-SS officers. The two were forced to seek refuge with their neighbors, leaving the villa and its contents to an uncertain fate. When Endre and his mother returned to its grounds, it was partially in ruins and the contents of the house were missing.
While some possessions were taken directly from the residence, including the excellent porcelain collection, others including this Guercino painting had at some point prior been moved outside the city to the family’s country residence in Hatvan, Hungary. This painting was included on an inventory list of artworks that had been transferred from the Hatvany-Deutsch castle to the Land Rental Co. Ltd. building in Pélpuszta, Hungary, in October 1944. It is believed that the objects stored there were subsequently taken into Germany.
Antonia Hatvany inquired about the missing collections from the family’s Budapest residence through a law firm which communicated with the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) operation on behalf of their client in November 1947. The MFAA launched an investigation, searching the Munich and Wiesbaden Central Collecting Points for anything belonging to the Hatvanys and conducting interrogations of German officers once billeted in the Hatvany residence.
Monuments Man Richard F. Howard, Deputy Chief of the MFAA, wrote the firm on July 23, 1948, with the results of the MFAA’s efforts. “It is regretted that no object of the Hatvany Collection was found in either the Munich Central Collection Point or the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point.” He added that the conclusion drawn from the interrogations was that the house was looted after the Germans had left Budapest during the Soviet-led invasion. There was no mentioning of the works that had been moved to the country residence in Hatvan.
The family’s collection, which comprised a little more than 1,000 pieces total, is still missing to this day. Portions of it are suspected to have been confiscated and taken into Germany, and the remainder confiscated by the Nazis and then seized from them by the advancing Soviet forces.