09 June 2011

“A Harvest Scene (Heuernte)” by Philip Wouwerman

It required the death at the age of 96 on March 19, 2007, of a German art historian turned notorious Nazi plunderer and war criminal, Bruno Lohse, former operational chief of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Paris and deputy commander of the Dienststelle Westen in German-occupied Paris to discover a painting looted by Nazi agents in the summer of 1940 from the home of the late Edmond de Rothschild.

R 348
Source: ERR Project via NARA
R 348
Source: ERR Project via NARA

"A Harvest Scene (Heuernte)", Philip Wouwerman
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
The painting in question, “A Harvest Scene (Heuernte)” by Philip Wouwerman, was labeled as R 348 by the ERR staff at the Jeu de Paume and subsequently shipped to the Reich to be incorporated into the collection of Hermann Goering.

At some point before the end of the Second World War, Bruno Lohse was able to gain control of the painting either by subterfuge or with the consent of Goering. Nevertheless, it remained in his custody until his death, when it was found in a safe in a Zurich bank.

A French journalist, Philippe Sprang, first reported the story of the looted Wouwerman painting in December 2010. In his piece, he reported how the French Rothschilds had ignored the fact that the painting had resurfaced and was available for them to claim it. The family, once apprised of the existence of the painting, preferred to work through the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs rather than contact the German authorities directly. However, since that time, we have learned that, apparently, the rightful heir is unwilling or reluctant to press for the restitution of this work or is simply uninterested.

The painting is now awaiting its fate at the hands of German judicial authorities. If the rightful owner refuses to claim it as his property which was looted from his family during the Nazi occupation of France, this stolen work of art will be handed over to a relative of the plunderer, Bruno Lohse, and justice will not have been served. A sad and unfortunate end to a story that can still end well with the claimant recovering what is rightfully his.