Looted Art

This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room

“This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room”

by Craig Gilmore via “LA Times”

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Two agents from U.S. Homeland Security’s ICE unit arrived at my door in September looking for a Polish lady — not a person, but a painting: Melchior Geldorp’s “Portrait of a Lady.” She had, they informed me, been looted by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw.

Unsure if these gentlemen were indeed who they claimed to be, I didn’t invite them in. But I knew exactly what they were seeking: My partner, David, and I had purchased this very portrait — ostensibly the work of a different artist — a decade earlier from a major auction house in New York. 

Upon their leaving, I stood dumbfounded, holding a packet of information about the alleged provenance of our painting. After calling David at work to drop this bombshell, I began a Googling frenzy, eventually bringing me to Poland’s Division for Looted Art website. Seconds later I was gawking at an old black-and-white photo of our beloved lady, a beautiful portrait painted on oak panel in 1628. Tears welled in my eyes with the realization that, without question, if this were true we needed to do our duty and get her safely home.

Being an opera singer, I was among a group of vocalists on a government-sponsored tour of Israel some years ago. During a visit to a community center for Holocaust survivors I was asked to sing. The emotion of being surrounded by people who had prevailed through such unimaginable horrors was overwhelming, and I found myself unable. Excusing myself, I attempted to make up for it by spinning several of the ladies around the dance floor — all the while trying not to look down at the numbers tattooed on their wrists. 

Now this memory flooded back to me, and I found myself once again in tears, hyper-aware of how Nazi atrocities affect us still to this day.

The toll of World War II in Poland — including the deaths of 6 million Poles, Jews, and other outcasts, including homosexuals — is unimaginable. Being gay men, David and I feel a personal connection with these losses and are conscious of how political shiftings can lead to vulnerability. This, added to the knowledge that Poland’s LGBTQ community is still in a struggle for its basic rights, has weighed heavily on our minds. 

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How my family recovered a painting stolen by the Nazis and sold it for $2.9 million

“How my family recovered a painting stolen by the Nazis and sold it for $2.9 million”

by Peter J. Toren via “Yahoo! News

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On a warm, humid June evening on Regent Street in London, among the fanciest stores in the world, the international art auction house, Sotheby’s, auctioned the Max Liebermann painting Two Riders on a Beach, for many times the pre-sale estimate to an unknown buyer. The painting, a 1901 scene of two elegantly dressed men riding chestnut horses with the surf breaking behind them, belonged to my great great uncle David Friedmann, and was stolen from him by the Nazis.

I saw the painting in person with my son for the first time the day before the auction. German tax investigators found the painting in the Munich home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of the infamous art dealer to the Nazis, Hildebrand Gurlitt. Two Riders was part of a 1,200-work trove that was found in Gurlitt’s home in Munich, which included some invaluable pieces that had been stored in tomato crates. While a number of the other works were likely also stolen from Jewish owners, the German government has only returned one painting to its rightful Jewish owner other than Two Riders.

The history of the painting, and especially its recovery, represents a story of success, struggle, survival and redemption that many Jewish families have gone through in the last 100 years.

David Friedmann’s family, a wealthy and successful German-Jewish family, owned a 10,000-acre sugar beet farm, that included a distillery for making schnapps and a “castle,” near Breslau, now Wroclaw in western Poland. Friedmann was an avid collector of art, and in addition to Two Riders, also owned works by Camille Pissarro, Gustave Courbet, Jean Francois Raffaelli, and Henri Rousseau, along with a remarkably comprehensive collection of Italian, German and Dutch fine pottery.

Villa Grisebach, the German auction house, also sold from the Gurlitt trove another Liebermann, The Basket Weavers, looted from Friedmann. My father, who vividly remembers Two Riders hanging in a sunroom in Friedmann’s home in Breslau, recalls him as a kindly, though imposing man, who liked to give parties, attended by German intellectuals including the composer Richard Strauss.

My father and his brother were the only members of his family to survive the Holocaust and as a child of a survivor, I grew up listening to my father tell me stories of my family’s German history and the connection to David Friedmann. My grandfather was a prominent lawyer in Breslau, and as dispensation for serving as a Colonel in the German Army in the First World War, he was able to continue to represent Jewish clients even after other German Jewish lawyers could no longer do legal work. On November 10, 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, when Jewish stores and businesses were looted, and Jews were beaten and killed, my grandfather was required to assist Friedmann in “selling” some of his property to the Nazi General Ewald von Kleist. . . . .

 

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Swiss Museum Publishes List of Nazi Loot Art Trove

“Swiss Museum Publishes List of Nazi Loot Art Trove”

via “Reuters

File picture showing the facade of the Kunsmuseum Bern art museum in Bern

ZURICH (Reuters) – A Swiss museum published a list on Thursday of all the art found in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, a German recluse whose secret collection included masterpieces looted from their Jewish owners by the Nazis.

The Bern Art Museum was named as sole heir to the collection and on Monday reluctantly accepted the bequest, making clear that it would adopt a policy of total transparency to head off any criticism over its decision to take in the artwork.

“We have promised transparency and are now acting accordingly,” Matthias Frehner, director of the Kunstmuseum Bern, said in a statement.

Gurlitt’s collection of over 1,200 artworks had been hidden away for decades until German tax inspectors stumbled upon it during a raid on his Munich apartment in 2012. A government task force identified three pieces that were indisputably looted by the Nazis which would be returned to the heirs.

Bern Art Museum has said it will not accept any piece which experts believed might have been stolen and by publishing the full list it hopes it might still discover the rightful owners.

Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to shake-off its reputation as a haven for ill-gotten gains, and the museum is anxious to avoid the legal risks associated with accepting disputed art works.

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“Australia Returns Two Stolen Ancient, Priceless Idols to India”

“Australia Returns Two Stolen Ancient, Priceless Idols to India”

via “IBNLive.com”

New Delhi: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who is on a state visit to India is returning two looted idols seized from Australian museums during a meeting with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Friday.

Abbott is personally delivering the National Gallery of Australia’s Rs 30 crore ($5 million) Dancing Shiva or Nataraja Ardand and the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s Rs 2 crore ($300,000) Ardhanarishvara to Modi as a “gesture of good will” at a state reception at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in the evening.

Both priceless objects were stolen from temples in India and later sold to the museums by Manhattan dealer Subhash Kapoor, who, his gallery manager has admitted, created falsified ownership documents to hide their illicit origins.

Australia returns two stolen ancient, priceless idols to India

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is personally delivering the Dancing Shiva or Nataraja Ardand and Ardhanarishvara to Narendra Modi.

The Australian returns mark the first major repatriations in the Kapoor case, but are unlikely to be the last. Dozens more Kapoor objects acquired by the Australian museums were sold with false ownership histories similar to those used with the returned objects. Several will likely play a prominent role in Kapoor’s criminal trial in Chennai, India, which has been on hold pending the return of the NGA’s looted Shiva says an exclusive website for the Hunt for Looted Antiquities in the World’s Museums ‘Chasing Aphrodite’.

The Tamil Nadu Police had produced evidence to establish that the idol was stolen from a temple at Sripuranthan in Tamil Nadu. They had arrested Kapoor for his alleged involvement in the theft. He is now lodged in the Chennai prison and is facing trial.

Meanwhile, Kapoor’s international network of looters and smugglers is still being mapped by authorities in the United States, who have already seized over Rs 600 crore ($100 million) in art from the dealer’s Manhattan gallery and storage facilities.

Federal investigators in the United States are methodically working through mountains of evidence seized from Kapoor, probing his ties to a number of American and foreign museums that did business with the dealer. Indian authorities, meanwhile, are considering a broader campaign to reclaim stolen antiquities from foreign institutions.

Over the past two years, we’ve traced hundreds of suspect Kapoor objects to museums around the world. To date, the Kapoor case has received the most attention in Australia, whose National Gallery for months stonewalled press and government inquiries and dismissed mounting evidence before agreeing to take the stolen idol off display. The Art Gallery of New South Wales took a slightly more proactive approach, releasing the ownership history that Kapoor supplied for its sculpture of Ardhanarishvara (left.) Soon after, Indian art blogger Vijay Kumar identified the temple from which the sculpture was stolen. . . . .

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“Paintings looted by Nazi, recovered by Allies to be auctioned in NY”

“Paintings looted by Nazi, recovered by Allies to be auctioned in NY”

by Patricia Reaney via “Yahoo News

“NEW YORK (Reuters) – Paintings looted by the Nazis during World War Two and retrieved by the Monuments Men, the Allied group tasked with returning masterpieces to their rightful owners, will be sold at auction on Thursday in New York.

The works, which will go under the hammer during Sotheby’s sale of Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture, were among the tens of thousands of works recovered by the art experts whose story is told in the George Clooney film “The Monuments Men,” which opens in U.S. theaters on February 7.

“The scale of looting was absolutely extraordinary,” said Lucian Simmons, Sotheby’s head of restitution.

“In France, for example, 36,000 paintings were stolen from institutions and largely from individuals. The Monuments Men managed to recover and return the majority of those,” he said in an interview.

Two small paintings in the sale, “La cueillette des roses” and “Le musicien” by the French rococo artist Jean-Baptise Pater, were chosen by Adolf Hitler’s air force chief Hermann Goering for his personal collection. . . . . .”