Germany to restitute two Nazi-looted paintings

Germany will return two paintings to the sole heir of a collector who was murdered by the Nazis.

Two paintings by the renowned Expressionist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff – “Estate in Dangast” (1910) and “Self Portrait” (1920) – will be turned over to Argentinean businessman Roberto Graetz, 60, the sole heir of Jewish textile manufacturer and art collector Robert Graetz, who was killed in Auschwitz.

German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann on Nov. 19 announced the decision by the so-called Limbach Commission to return the paintings, “based on the overall situation, the persecution of Robert Graetz, and given the fact that there was no concrete evidence” opposing the claim that Graetz had lost his collection due to Nazi persecution, according to the German press agency dpa.

The Limbach Commission was established in 2003 to help resolve disputes over cultural inheritance.

Graetz’ nephew and sole heir reportedly had fought for ten years for the return of the paintings, which are worth an estimated $4 million. They are currently on loan to the Neue Nationalgalerie, one of Berlin’s premier modern art museums. It is expected that talks will be held with the Argentinean heir and the Prussian Foundation to arrange for the works to remain at the museum. 

The state of Berlin reportedly had claimed that there was not enough evidence to prove the works had been stolen or confiscated by the Nazis. All they knew was that Graetz still owned them in 1938 and that they were sold at a gallery in 1953 for 3,500 German marks, or under $900. But researchers were unable to document what had happened to the paintings after 1938.

The fate of Graetz, however, is known. According to reports, he was forced to sell his home and belongings in 1938 and was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where he was killed.

His nephew told Bloomberg after the decision that: “You cannot undo the past, but it is possible to achieve a little bit of justice.”

The Hague pays for Nazi-looted artwork

The Hague has paid the heir of a Jewish art dealer for a painting that was looted by the Nazis.

Marei von Saher, the daughter-in-law and sole heir of Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, will receive $1.4 million from The Hague for her half of Jan Steen’s “The Marriage of Tobias and Sarah,” and will donate the work to the Bredius Museum in The Hague.

The painting was divided into two parts; Goudstikker had owned the left side of the painting and The Hague owned the right side. The two pieces were reunited by art restorers in 1996.

Goudstikker died while escaping Amsterdam on a cargo ship in 1940. He had left about 1,400 pieces of art in his gallery, which was looted by the Nazi leader Hermann Goering. The works were given to the Dutch government after the war.

Von Saher recovered 202 pieces of artwork from the Dutch national collection in 2006.

Return of Nazi-Looted Art Proves a Good History Lesson

LOS ANGELES—It was a mix of state ceremony, mutual admiration fest, education forum and Seder symbolism when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who orchestrated the event, returned two Nazi-looted paintings to the grandchildren of the original Jewish owners, on behalf of the State of California.

The setting last Friday (4/10) was the historic Leland Stanford Mansion in Sacramento, usually the venue for feting heads of state, and the honorees included the lawyer who had FILED THE CLAIM[sued California] to recover the Italian Renaissance paintings FROM THE STATE.

The story began in 1935, when the Hitler regime confiscated the paintings of premier Berlin art dealers, Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, and sold them at a forced Judenauktion, or Jew auction.

The Oppenheimers had previously fled to France where, after the Nazi conquest, Jakob died in poverty while Rosa perished in Auschwitz.

Following the forced 1935 auction, three of the paintings were subsequently bought by press tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who apparently knew nothing of their provenance. He added the new acquisitions to his collection of 25,000 paintings at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, along California’s central coast.

In the 1950s, the 165-room castle was turned over to the California State Parks Department and now welcomes over a million visitors a year.

Two decades ago, Paris-based attorney Eva Sterzing started tracking paintings from the former Oppenheimer collection at European and American museums and eventually discovered the three paintings by 16th century Venetian artists at the Hearst Castle.

After thoroughly researching the evidence for two years, lawyers for the state parks and attorney general offices validated the claim of the Oppenheimer heirs.

However, rather than quietly arrange for a transfer, both sides agreed on an unusual deal to derive a permanent history lesson form the fate of the Oppenheimer family and their paintings.

The lesson unfolded, and was transmitted live on the governor’s web site, as Schwarzenegger and state officials met with two Oppenheimer grandchildren, Peter Bloch of Boynton, Florida and Inge Blackshear of Buenos Aires.

Sharing the stage were two oil on canvas paintings on easels, about to be returned to the Oppenheimer family after a 74-year interval.

One painting shows an elderly bearded man with a book and necklace of shells, thought to be by Giovanni Cariani, the other a portrait of a nobleman, attributed to an unnamed student of Jacopo Tintoretto.

Placed separately was the third painting, a photographic reproduction of “Venus and Cupid,” attributed to the school of another Venetian master, Paris Bordone. Through an amicable agreement, the original of this painting will remain on display at the Hearst Castle, together with reproductions of the two returned paintings.

“As of today, guides will be instructed to tell visitors about the history of the paintings and about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” said Hoyt Fields, director of the Hearst Castle museum.

Attorney Bradly (ok) Torgan, one of the main state negotiators with the Oppenheimer heirs, drew a more personal lesson from the experience. After conducting a second Seder at his home the preceding night, Torgan saw a parallel between the return of the painting and “the story of the Exodus, which is a commemoration of the Jews’ flight, of liberation, and, ultimately, the journey home.”

Bloch, in accepting the two paintings, thanked the State of California on behalf of nine heirs on three continents and expressed the hope that “other states will follow suit.”

Throughout the 30-minute ceremony, Schwarzenegger served as the designated cheerleader, again and again calling for rounds of applause to thank the Oppenheimer heirs – and even their lawyer – for their generosity and good will.

In an interview afterwards, Schwarzenegger explained his personal interest in the case and the purpose of the preceding ceremony.
“I was born two years after World War II in Austria, where there were atrocities and crimes against Jews, who were robbed of everything,” Schwarzenegger said.

“So I am of the next generation and we have to be different. We have to try to give back what we can.”
The governor is well aware of his star power as body builder, Hollywood actor and politician.

“My being here will be reported in the media and whatever California does is widely copied, so we’re sending a great signal to the rest of the world,” he said.
Neither Bloch nor other participants would talk about the dollar value of the two returned paintings, but given the number of far-flung heirs, the paintings will most likely be sold and the proceeds divided among the heirs, Bloch said.

Hearst Castle is the 25th American museum to have negotiated settlements over Nazi-looted art during the past decade.