09 April 2011

ERR database—Impressionists and their collectors

Usually, when people think of art restitution or art looted by the Nazis, they tend to believe that most stolen objects consisted of paintings, drawings and etchings, and more specifically, works by the Impressionists and their followers. Popular names that come to mind: Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Pierre Matisse, and Paul Cézanne.

When the art specialists of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) pilfered the homes and galleries of collectors and dealers across French territory, but more specifically in and around Paris, they came across troves of Impressionist works. One would think that almost anyone who was anyone would collect Impressionists in France, right? Wrong!

On closer look, here's what we found out.

Of the 270 owners who are currently listed in the ERR database, fewer than 10 per cent held works by Impressionists in their collections at the time of the German occupation of France in June 1940.

Let's do a survey by artist (Note: I use the word "unknown" to refer to the MA-B and UNB collections, categories created by the ERR staff to characterize mass seizures of objects from residential homes without due concern for their owners' identities):
  • Pierre Bonnard: 8 known owners and at most 6 unknown. 
  • Eugène Boudin: 9 known owners and at most 4 unknown. 
  • Paul Cézanne: 2 known owners and at most 3 unknown. 
  • Edgar Degas: 13 known owners and at most 2 unknown. 
  • Paul Gauguin: 5 known owners 
  • Marie Laurencin: 11 known owners and at most 3 unknown. 
  • Edouard Manet: 7 known owners and 1 unknown. 
  • Henri Matisse: 4 known owners and at most 11 unknown. 
  • Claude Monet: 4 known owners and at most 4 unknown. 
  • Auguste Renoir: 16 known owners and at most 9 unknown. 
  • Edouard Vuillard: 7 known owners and 1 unknown. 
Needless to say, we can already conclude that the tastes of collectors in inter-war France extended way beyond the lure of Impressionists that seduces today's learned audiences in the global art market.

The question is: what did people collect if they didn't gravitate towards Impressionists?