Shalom Life | June 27, 2015

Art Stolen from Jews by Nazis Goes on Sale

Jewish heir is 90, blind and unable to appreciate art, puts paintings up for sale after legal resolution

By: B. Shane Morganstein

Published: June 25th, 2015 in Culture » Art » News

Art Stolen from Jews by Nazis Goes on Sale

Photo: Max Lieberman’s “Two Riders on a Beach”


A painting that was hidden away for decades, originally looted by the Nazis, is being auctioned by Sotheby’s this Wednesday. Though investigators have been able to identify the origins of this painting, they are still struggling to properly trace the origins of hundreds of others from the same haul.

The painting, Max Lieberman’s “Two Riders on a Beach” was found among more than 1200 works of art in a Munich apartment of German Cornelius Gurlitt, who was raided by police in 2012 in an operation that captured global attention.

The 1901 oil painting is expected to bring in around $600,000 at auction, and is the first of the Gurlitt collection be be brought to market.

“The challenge is to go through the provenance of every single picture in this collection,” explained Sotheby’s director Bernhard Brandstaetter. “It’s a lengthy process to establish where a picture comes from, when it was bought, and so on,” he continued, describing the German’s collection as “probably the most significant find in the last 30 years.”

Wednesday’s auction will also include a Gustav Klimt portrait lost to Jewish owners during WWII, which is now being sold after the resolution of a lengthy legal battle between descendents of the artist and the subject. Described by Helena Newman, Sotheby’s co-head of impressionist and modern art , as “one of his finest portraits to appear at auction in over 20 years,” the painting is expected to fetch up to £18 million.

David Toren, one of many heirs to the Liebermann painting, remembers his 13-year-old self watching the picture being taken from his uncle David Friedmann in 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. Now 90 and blind, Toren believes he is unable to appreciate the painting, which was returned to him after a prolonged legal battle. The German government is still working to establish the ownership of other paintings in the large haul.

Works by famous artists including Picasso, Manet, and Chagall were all found in the painting treasure trove discovered after German police raided Gurlitt’s apartment.

Although the Nazi’s stole a great deal of art from Jewish citizens during the Holocaust, the German government is working to return thousands of pieces of art to their rightful owners.

The Liebermann painting was taken by the Nazis, and sold to art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was tasked by Adolf Hitler to plunder museums and Jewish collections on behalf of the Third Reich. The works were inherited by his son Cornelius, who himself passed away last year.

“Since then it has disappeared from public view,” said Brandstaetter. “What’s so surprising is that it was hidden away for so long. When it arrived here it was very dirty. You could see it had not been cared for. Many of the things Cornelius Gurlitt had in his house were just stuck somewhere, behind cupboards or under beds.”

Though authorities are trying to trace the original ownership of the paintings in Gurlitt’s stash, only two have been returned to their rightful owners. Friederike Schwelle, manager of provenance research and restitution at the Art loss Register, said the Gurlitt discovery prompted many people to come forward, believing they had rightful claims to paintings from the haul.

“Locating heirs can be quite difficult because some perished during the Holocaust and others have since died,” Schwelle explained, adding that it is “very difficult to say” how much art was looted by the Nazis throughout the war.

“People suspect there might still be about 100,000 objects out there that might be involved in Nazi looting that are still missing.”

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