28 May 2015

Stop the illegal sale of sacred Hopi artifacts by EVE auction house in Paris on June 1, 2015!

Editor’s note: We are publishing a letter co-signed by a group of dedicated scholars and museum directors who are outraged that the French government is allowing for the sixth time in over a year the illegal sale of sacred Hopi artifacts through an auction house called EVE. The sale is slated for June 1, 2015. A seventh sale is slated for June 10, 2015. The Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (Council of Voluntary Sales) is a regulatory body which oversees the French auction market. In past attempts to stop these sales, the CVV defiantly noted that the history of ownership or provenance of the objects is merely optional and, more importantly, the Hopi or any other indigenous group or tribe has no legal standing in France to assert a claim of ownership on their objects which, oftentimes, reach the market illicitly.

In the case of these Hopi artifacts referred to as “friends” by their rightful owners, the Hopi, these objects are entering the French market after circulating through a semi-clandestine black market in the United States populated by thieves and established dealers from the Southwest to the hallowed streets of Manhattan in New York City. Under the very nose of the FBI, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security, these ill-gotten objects have left US territory for one reason and one reason only: they cannot be sold legally in the US and the French are more than happy to welcome them so that they can be sold off to a predominately ignorant public despite a permanent cloud on their title.

In order to stop the June 1, 2015, of the claimed objects, a letter is being sent to François Hollande, President of France.]

May 27, 2015

The Honorable François Hollande

Président de la République Française

Palais de l’Elysée

55, rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré

75006 Paris




Mr. President Hollande,

We, the undersigned, are the directors or leaders of several large U.S. institutions with significant collections and interests in Native American art and culture. Collectively, our staffs consist of leading scholars in the field of Native American studies who have significant and long-standing expertise and knowledge of the culture of Native American groups in the Southwest United States, including the Hopi Tribe and the New Mexico Pueblo tribes. Over the past 3 years, we have been appalled by the continued willingness of auction houses in Paris, and in particular the EVE auction house, to proceed with sales which include items described by the Hopi Tribe as “katsina friends,” and that the auction houses have offensively described as “masques katsinam.”

Several of us have, on prior occasions, requested that these auction houses withdraw the katsina friends from sale and that these sacred, communally owned objects be promptly returned to the Hopi and other Pueblo tribes who are their rightful owners. As we have explained in the past, the katsina friends are communal property and cannot be sold by any tribal individual. Furthermore, while katsina friends can be held and cared for by individuals, they belong to the communities from which they come and are cared for by specific ceremonial societies or clans. Under both tribal custom and tribal, state and federal law, they cannot be sold or given away by any individual. As a result, they cannot be legitimately privately owned by individual collectors or institutions, as legal title under tribal, state and federal law could never pass to anyone other than the applicable tribe. Thus, the sale of such items constitutes the sale of stolen property, which is obviously legally prohibited, both in the United States and around the world. While the Hopi Tribe first enacted statutes specifically prohibiting the sale of katsina friends and other communal religious objects in the 1970s, the Hopi and other tribes have openly and notoriously prohibited such sales by communal law and custom since the first contact with non-Natives in the Southwest.

Today, the sale of such objects violates various federal, state and tribal statutes that protect the United States’ cultural resources and tribal property, and prohibit trafficking in stolen goods and various species of birds. In addition to these laws, U.S. case law has clearly established that buying or selling katsina friends is a crime under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (“NAGPRA”). EVE auction house’s statements that NAGPRA does not have criminal prohibitions on the trafficking in katsina friends or in other NAGPRA defined sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony are a blatant and offensive misstatement of U.S. law.

As such, we are shocked to hear that the EVE auction house has, yet again, scheduled another sale that includes the illegal sale of several katsina friends for June 1, 2015 in Paris.

As we have indicated on prior occasions, we can reasonably assert that the proposed sale of these katsina friends, and the international exposure of them, is not only illegal, but is causing and will continue to cause significant outrage, sadness and distress among members the affected tribes. For them, katsina friends are living beings, which is why they are called “friends” (kwatsi) in the Hopi language. The friends are loved, cared for, and ceremonially fed. They are a connection between the human world and the spirits of all living things and the ancestors. To be displayed disembodied in an auction catalogue and on the internet is sacrilegious and offensive. If one claims to value these katsina friends as “works of art”, one must also respect the people who made them and the native traditions that govern their ownership and use. As fellow human beings, it is our hope that you will offer understanding and empathy to the tribal people who are so deeply damaged and affected by this proposed sale. You cannot honor and value these katsina friends while dishonoring their rightful owners. These are universal principles of cross-cultural human conduct which France has continuously endorsed throughout World history.

Furthermore, we are highly concerned to have learned that, twice already, the Hopi Tribe and their representatives have attempted to suspend prior auction sales in Paris through a body controlled by your government, called the “Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (or “CVV”), which has the power to suspend auction sales or to force the withdrawal of certain objects from a sale where sufficient doubt exists on the provenance of these objects. We were especially appalled to learn that, twice, the CVV refused to withdraw katsina friends in prior proceedings by holding the incomprehensible position that neither the Hopi Tribe, nor individual Hopi tribal members, had any legal standing to challenge these sales. This grotesque jurisprudence flies in the face of the long-standing recognition of Native American tribal sovereignty and the fact that U.S. law clearly establishes that federally recognized Indian Tribes have the power to sue in any number of matters. The Hopi Tribe is an ancient culture — with more than 14,117 enrolled members today — that has remained steadfast to its culture, language, heritage and spirituality. It is also a sovereign nation federally recognized by the U.S. government and should be treated accordingly.

Additionally, we are quite troubled by the lack of legal equity and apparent prejudice that the French legal system opposes against American parties, such as Indian Tribes, while at the same time, French museum institutions are the first ones to seek and successfully obtain the leverage of the American legal system when they are plaintiffs in claims involving cultural property stolen in France and subsequently transferred to the United States.

On behalf of the undersigned museums, we request your official intervention to stop the June 1 auction of the katsina friends, and do everything in your power to obtain their swift and prompt restitution to the Hopi people.


Robert Breunig, Ph.D.
The Museum of Northern Arizona

John Bulla
Interim Director & CEO
Heard Museum

Janice Klein
Executive Director
Museum Association of Arizona

Jonathan Batkin
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Michael F. Brown
School for Advanced Research

Christoph Heinrich, Ph.D.
Denver Art Museum

Cc: Gérard Araud
Ambassador of France to the United States
The Embassy of France to the United States
4101 Reservoir Road, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007
By e-mail: Gerard.araud@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Cc: Cabinet de la Présidence de la République

M. Jean-Pierre Jouyet
Secrétaire général
By e-mail: jean-pierre.jouyet@elysee.fr

M. Thierry Lataste
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: thierry.lataste@elysee.fr

M. Jacques Audibert
Conseiller diplomatique
By e-mail: jacques.audibert@elysee.fr

Mme Audrey Azoulay
Conseillère Culture et communication
By e-mail: Audrey.Azoulay@elysee.fr

Mme Françoise Tomé
Conseillère Justice
By e-mail: francoise.tomé@elysee.fr

M. Adrien Abecassis
Conseiller Affaires Bilatérales
Cellule Diplomatique
By e-mail: Adrien.abecassis@elysee.fr

Christiane Taubira
Garde des Sceaux, Ministre de la Justice
13, Place Vendôme
75042 Paris Cedex 01 FRANCE
Fax : (011) 33-1-44-77-60-02
By e-mail: Christiane.Taubira@justice.gouv.fr

Anne Berriat
Directrice adjointe de cabinet
By e-mail: Anne.Berriat@justice.gouv.fr

Carle Deveille-Fontinha
Conseillère Diplomatique
By e-mail: Carla.deveille-fontinha@justice.gouv.fr

Fleur Pellerin
Ministre de la Culture et de la Communication
3, rue de Valois
75001 Paris FRANCE
BY e-mail: Fleur.Pellerin@culture.gouv.fr
Fax: (011) 33-1-40-15-85-30

Fabrice Bakhouche
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: fabrice.bahouche@culture.gouv.fr

Laurent Fabius
Ministre des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international
37 Quai d’Orsay
75007 Paris FRANCE
Fax : (011) 33-1-43-17-40-94
By e-mail: Laurent.Fabius@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Alexandre Ziegler
Directeur de cabinet
By e-mail: Alexandre.Ziegler@diplomatie.gouv.fr

M. Benoît Guidée
Conseiller des affaires étrangères, Asie, Amérique
By e-mail: benoit.guidee@diplomatie.gouv.fr

Catherine Chadelat
Conseillère d’Etat
Conseil des Ventes Volontaires
19 Avenue de l'opéra
75001 PARIS, France
By e-mail : c.chadelat@conseildesventes.fr
Par Fax: 01-53-45-89-20

Cc: John McCain
U.S. Senator for the State of Arizona
U.S. Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2235
Fax: (202) 228-2862

Jeff Flake
U.S. Senator for the State of Arizona
U.S. Senate
Senate Russell Office Building 368
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: 202-224-4521
Fax: 202-228-0515

Ann Kirkpatrick
U.S. Representative, Arizona First District
U.S. House of Representatives
201 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-3361
Fax: 202-225-3462

Raoul Grijalva
U.S. Representative Arizona Third District
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. Office
1511 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2435
Fax: (202) 225-1541

Paul Gosar
U.S. Representative, Arizona Fourth District
U.S. House of Representatives
504 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2315

Matt Salmon
U.S. Representative, Arizona Fifth District
U.S. House of Representatives
2349 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2635
Fax: (202) 226-4386

David Schweikert
U.S. Representative, Arizona Sixth District
U.S. House of Representatives
1205 Longworth House Office Building
Washington DC, 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2190
Fax: (202) 225-0096

Trent Franks
U.S. Representative, Arizona Eighth District
U.S. House of Representatives
2435 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4576
Fax: (202) 225-6328

Krysten Sinema
U.S. Representative, Arizona Ninth District
U.S. House of Representatives
1237 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-9888

Cc : Her Excellency, Jane D. Hartley
U.S. Ambassador to the French Republic and to the Principality of Monaco
U.S. Embassy in France
2 avenue Gabriel
75382 Paris Cedex 08, France
Fax: (011) 33-1-42669783
By e-mail: HartleyDJ@state.gov

The Honorable Loretta Lynch
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001 U.S.A.
By e-mail: loretta.lynch@usdoj.gov

The Honorable James B. Comey
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535-0001 U.S.A.

Sally Jewell
Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240 U.S.A.
By e-mail: sally_jewell@ios.doi.gov, sallyjewell@ios.doi.gov, sally.jewell@ios.doi.gov,

Herman G. Honanie
Hopi Tribal Council
Fax: (928) 734-6665
By email: hopicouncil@hopi.nsn.us
P.O. Box 123
Kykotsmovi, AZ 86039
By e-mail: HeHonanie@hopi.nsn.us

Cc: Ori Z. Soltes
Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Inc.
c/o 5114 Westridge Road
Bethesda, MD 20816-1623
By e-mail: orisoltes@gmail.com

Pierre Ciric, Esq.
Member of the Firm
The Ciric Law Firm, PLLC
17A Stuyvesant Oval
New York, NY 10009
By e-mail: pciric@ciriclawfirm.com

Memorial Day Ruminations

by Ori Z Soltes

Three related issues interwove themselves in my mind thanks to a serendipitous catching up with emails on this sunny Memorial Day weekend. Since "memorial" derives from the same Latin root as "memory" then it is particularly appropriate that, on a weekend when we are reminded to remember our war dead, the singular human capacity for memory and its verbal, visual and other articulations direct itself to related matters pertaining to the dead--and the living--from a range of different kinds of wars.

I was impressed by the youtube record of a brief speech by Eric Sundby, president of the student-run Holocaust Remembrance and Restitution Society at Oklahoma University in Norman, OK. The speech was in support of a resolution before the Oklahoma State legislature, HR 1026, that would call on the Fred Jones Museum of Oklahoma University to engage in a full process of provenance research.

In his speech, Sundby observed that, in practical terms, this means that the museum must both research the ownership history of objects in its collections that were acquired without the benefit of that research at the time of acquisition, and for which there is the possibility that they were stolen; and that it must commit itself to rigorously research the ownership history of potential acquisitions in the future.

The specific issue that prompted the legislation and Sundby's speech is the claim by Leone Meyer, in France, for the small Pissarro painting, La Bergère ("The Shepherdess"), which was stolen (together with dozens of other works of art) from the Meyer family, by the Nazis, under the aegis of the Alfred Rosenberg-guided task force whose purpose it was to plunder cultural property from the Nazis' victims. (Rosenberg's earlier claim to fame had been his orchestration of the Nazi theory that differentiated "Aryans" from Jews, Slavs, Roma and others, physiologically, mentally and morally).
La Bergere, by Camille Pissarro

As anyone who is interested in the issue of Nazi-Plundered cultural property is aware, the President of Oklahoma University and the Director of the Fred Jones Museum have steadfastly refused to consider restituting the painting to Ms. Meyer, based on a remarkable combination of pseudo-legal technicalities and egocentric obtuseness. Sundby referred to the Museum's assertion that restitution would set "a bad precedent" and that "the history of [the painting's] ownership history is not known." Sundby held up a document from the US Archives, stamped with Alfred Rosenberg's ERR Task Force stamp, indicating unequivocally that  La Bergère was item #13 plundered from the Meyer family.
Meyer 13-RG 260 M1943 Reel 15 NARA

ERR labeling on photo of Meyer 13
The Museum's refusal to accord justice and pursue an ethical path in the face of remarkably clear evidence as to the Nazi theft of the Pissarro from the Meyers, and its cynical use of an earlier failed effort by Meyer's father to gain restitution in Switzerland, (due, at the time, to what is now universally regarded as a faulty legal issue: the time limits within which claims might be made and to the Swiss judiciary's refusal to call into question the "good faith" of art dealers suspected of recycling art looted in Axis-controlled Europe) as a legal precedent, is profoundly disturbing. This is what has prompted virtually the entire state of Oklahoma, from students and ordinary citizens to State legislators, to rise up in protest and demand restitution.

Almost equally troubling is the documentary evidence suggesting that well over a decade ago a colleague from a different museum had alerted the Fred Jones museum curators of a potential provenance problem with this painting--and perhaps with some 30 others that had come from the same source--and that the Museum staff chose to minimize the alert at that time. That is to say, they chose not to engage in provenance research (and in this case, that research would not have been overly complicated), as if they had hoped that the issue would disappear.

Instead, it has returned, with a vengeance. Which leads me to the second issue that has been bothering me this weekend. The verbiage of HR 1026 is virtually drawn, in its entirety, from statements made well over a decade ago by Museum Directors in both the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD) in response to a concatenation of public events that began with an all-day conference at the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish museum and the founding of HARP (September 4, 1997); and led to the HARP-inspired State Department conference that produced the so-called Washington Principles (in December 1998), signed by nearly four dozen nations at that time.

The august statements made by both AAM and AAMD pledged strong new efforts toward provenance research and a concerted effort to restitute works in their collections that had been plundered by the Nazis, where victims or their heirs could be found. Alas, the track record has meandered gradually downhill for the most part since then, as, with some noteworthy exceptions, American museums preferred to downplay the demand for provenance research and in many cases resisted the requests of claimants for judicious consideration of their claims, for their plundered works and for justice.

More subtly, museums still offer remarkably little information about works of art to their visitors, with respect to the narrative of plunder within the narrative of ownership. Where bona fide art historical enquiry should crave every bit of information about a work of art--who made it and when and where, and also who first and then who next owned it, and indeed what the entire trail of ownership up to the present has been--for this last sort of datum is essential to the larger story of culture and within it, economics and cultural patronage--the available information to the staff, by the staff and to the public (that the museum presumably wants to educate and edify and not merely entertain), remains remarkably limited.

In part this is because of the apparent limits on museum-staff skill at engaging in provenance research--at reading and understanding the documents that offer information on ownership history. (How else could the Fred Jones Museum argue that the provenance of La Bergère is unknown, when the archival documents are so clear?) Mind you, the museum and gallery community has continued to mouth its interest in understanding all of this better, but when seminars and short courses have been made available to it, the classroom remains devoid of participation from that community. If the museums don't understand or cannot tell the story of objects that have been plundered, they certainly cannot be expected to understand why restitution even matters, much less be sympathetic to the process; they cannot be expected to share a story that they don't know with their audiences. The trail from 1997 to 2015 and from Washington, DC to Norman, Oklahoma is a rugged one, with very uneven footing.

The contexts of history and art history are large ones. I noticed while watching Sundby's youtube-recorded speech that, in the background, behind him, there stood a life-sized bronze statue of a Native American. From my viewing angle it appeared generic: a non-specific American Indian. But then I thought--this is Oklahoma, after all--that the sculpture may well have been of a Cherokee. And I thought: how ironic! In 1838 in what is known as the Trail of Tears, tens of thousands of Cherokee, native to Georgia and surrounding areas were force-marched all the way to Oklahoma. The reason: white Euro-American settlers wanted access to the rich farmland and forests that the Cherokee had inhabited for generations. The outcome: a small-scale genocide. Thousands of Cherokee perished along the way to Oklahoma, where those who survived the journey were forced to take up residence in an area reserved for them--a reservation--that offered nothing like the land from which they and come, nothing that would be conducive to living lives anything like those they lived back east.

North America, then, and the United States in particular, has a lamentable history with regard to the treatment of Native Americans by whites and by the white federal government. So--and this is third part of my interwoven Memorial Day rumination--there on youtube is a functional symbol of that horrific past, a past which the United States is still in the process of trying to shape toward a happier present. And before that symbol a speech is being offered to support legislation intended to push an American museum to restitute a painting to the heir of a family that was part of a different tale of tears.

And meanwhile, in Paris, in the country from which that Jewish claimant comes, the EVE auction house is about to offer up, for the third time in barely a year, objects sacred to various Native American tribes--in this case, specifically the Hopis, from Arizona. The French have apparently completely forgotten that they are signatories to acts that recognize the rights of indigenous peoples world-wide with regard, among other things, to their cultural and sacred heritage and property. American dealers who know that they cannot hope to unload others' sacred property anywhere in the United States have turned to France to help preserve and extend this particular tale and trail of tears.

Mr. Sundby, in his elegantly concise speech with that statue behind him and the ERR document before him observed that his organization supports the legislation of HR 1026 because "we stand for our community, our nation and our fellow human beings." As students at Oklahoma University, his organization would prefer their tuition dollars to go toward, well, education, and not toward lining the pockets of lawyers defending a classic, unethical case. But it seems that the Fred Jones Museum has forgotten about moral education, as have most of the American museum staffs who remain uneducated with regard to provenance research and its role in larger historical and cultural contexts, and as the French and their auction houses seem to have forgotten about the meaning of community and of humanity. Memory is an important human instrument but a flawed one indeed, particularly when it is embedded so deeply in ego and arrogance.

25 May 2015

Happy birthday, Vincent van Gogh! Part Two

by Angelina Giovani

[Editor’s note: This is the second installment of the story of the “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” by Vincent van Gogh. The first part, entitled “Happy Birthday, Vincent van Gogh: Portrait of Dr. Gachet, a book review” was posted on March 30, 2015.] 

Paul Cassirer
In 1904 Paul Cassirer, born in 1871 to an upper middle class family, displayed van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, at his Berlin Gallery, strategically situated next to other modern dealers such as Fritz Gurlitt, Keller & Reiner, and Schulte. Unlike other dealers, Cassirer had managed to establish a working connection with Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, mainly because he never argued with her high prices. Committed to introducing the French avant-garde in Germany, he had borrowed nineteen canvases from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger in 1901 and organized Germany’s first substantial van Gogh exhibition. Cassirer sold The Portrait of Dr. Gachet to Count Harry Kessler who also bought Maurice Denis’ Mother and Child which Ballin had consigned at the same time as Dr. Gachet. Kessler paid Cassirer 3,378 German marks for both works.

The arrival of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet coincided with a transition period during which Berlin was replacing Munich as a primary market for contemporary art in Germany. Unlike other places the Berlin bourgeoisie had a liberal taste for the modern, and proved to be a perfect audience for van Gogh’s work. At the time that Kessler bought Dr. Gachet, there were altogether seven paintings by van Gogh’s in German private collections: Karl Osthaus, Hugo von Tschudi and Julius Meier-Graefe. After the sale of Dr. Gachet to Kessler, the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and the Salon des Indépendants in Paris held van Gogh retrospectives. Sales picked up and, in 1905, Cassirer sold a total of twenty paintings by the Dutch master. Prices doubled in as many years, however, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger did not grant Cassirer the honor of being her ‘sole agent for Germany’. Up until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Cassirer enjoyed continuous success. He signed a contract to publish van Gogh’s letters, and bought 151 works. Other collectors were also expanding their collections, such as Helene Kröller, a wealthy art history major from Essen, and an American-born pharmaceutical magnate, Alfred C. Barnes, the first American to own a van Gogh. 
Count Harry Kessler

Count Harry Kessler was born in Paris in 1868. He was the son of Adolf Kessler, a Hamburg banker, and Alice Blosse-Lynch, an Irish explorer’s daughter. He was educated in England and Germany, traveled a lot and wrote for Pan, an Art Nouveau journal, Pan. In 1903 he was appointed director of the Grossherzogliches Museum für Kunst un Kunstgewerbe in Weimar. He brought the Portrait of Dr. Gachet to his house in Cranachstrasse, Weimar, which was designed by Henry van de Velde. The house itself was impeccably conceived to entertain and display the Count’s collection, the perfect vehicle through which to introduce The Portrait of Dr. Gachet to critics, artists, writers, and other members of the intelligentsia. For many, it was their first encounter with a van Gogh. As director of the Grossherzogliches, Count Kessler strove to turn Weimar into a center of modern culture. He organized monthly public exhibitions of Impressionists and neo-Impressionists which eventually drew rebukes from Weimar’s conservative circles. 

Four years after acquiring the picture, Kessler consigned Dr. Gachet with Eugène Druet, in Paris. A specialist in Postimpressionists, Druet had started out as a photographer of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures and made significant purchases of van Gogh works. The Paris art market was in constant evolution. After Cézanne's death, Ambroise Vollard organized Matisse’s first one-man show, Picasso completed Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, while Georges Braque produced his first collage. Collectors from Europe and North America dominated the Paris art market, driving Impressionist prices higher than ever before. Duet exhibited Dr. Gachet in 1908 together with thirty-five other pictures, and although the exhibition ran for twelve days, he did not sell a single painting. Despite this, the Portrait of Dr. Gachet stayed with Druet until February 1910, when he purchased it himself, for 14.000 francs. Then he lent it to Roger Fry, the British art critic and a leading painter in the Bloomsbury circle. Just like with the French, the British were not ready for van Gogh. A critic with the Daily Express called van Gogh’s works "unintelligible". Seeing how "England had no use for Dr. Gachet" the portrait returned to France.

The following year, on February 20, 1911, Druet shipped the painting to Georg Swarzenski, the director of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt since 1906, an institution renowned for its Old Master collection. Prior to acquiring the picture, Swarzenski had seen it in Kessler’s house in Weimar and also at Galerie Druet in Paris. This was the first postimpressionist canvas to enter the Städel. Swarzenski planned to transform the museum into a shrine for modern art.
Georg Swarzenski
Swarzenski was barely thirty years old when he became director of the museum. He was born in Dresden to a Jewish merchant, and was initially trained as a lawyer before switching to the study of art history. His goals were not only that the Städel should expand its collection, but also that it compete with other great museums of Europe. The only way to do this was to expand the collection with Impressionist works. As a result he removed all plaster copies of Roman and Greek art from the museum floor, and within 2 years he acquired over 350 pieces of sculpture both from Europe and Asia.

By 1911, the tendency to buy Impressionist works from France stirred a protest called “A protest of German Artists” fueled by 140 participants consisting of conservative artists, critics and museum directors.  Swarzenski asked Victor Mössinger, a businessman who later became his father-in-law, to purchase Dr.Gachet and donate it to the Städel.

On August 3, 1914 Germany declared war on France. Communication between art world figures in France and Germany became more complicated. The advent of war severed ties between Johanna van Gogh-Bonger and Paul Cassirer who was inducted into military duty as was Swarzenski. At war’s end in 1918, Swarzenski ordered that construction resume on the modern galleries, which were completed in 1923. By 1928, Swarzenski wore many hats in the Frankfurt art world, as head of the Städel and the Städtische Galerie but also of the Museum of History, and the Museum of Art and Crafts. Until the mid 1930, van Gogh and his works gave rise to new art historical writings as well as treatments in psychological and psychoanalytical literature.

In Spring 1933, months after Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany and, with him, the Nazi Party, Swarzenski removed Dr. Gachet from the walls of the Städel and locked it in a room under the museum’s roof together with a lot of Expressionist paintings. On March 12, the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was established under Dr. Joseph Goebbels. His mission was to align German culture with the ideology of the Nazi party. In September 1933, he established the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) which among other things imposed strict controls on the production of art in the Reich as well as on art exhibitions and the art market. Nazi ideology condemned modern art and labeled as ‘degenerate’ all forms of German and French Expressionism.

On March 13, 1933, Frankfurt’s Socialist mayor was replaced by Göring, and within weeks Swarzenski was suspended from his position as director at the Museum of History, the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Städtische and his position as professor at the University of Frankfurt. Yet, Swarzenski managed to remain as director of the Städel, which was a private foundation and technically the Nazis had no jurisdiction. Still, he was summoned before a commission, and only managed to hold on to his position thanks to the Lord Mayor, Friedrich Krebs, who had been an early member of the Nazi party and oversaw the closing of over 500 Jewish-owned businesses in Frankfurt during the first year of the Third Reich. Krebs also belonged to Alfred Rosenberg’s Combat League for German Culture, a rival of Goebbels’ Ministry to promote Nazi-approved art and attack modernism. Krebs did not consider Swarzenski as a threat.
Friedrich Krebs
In 1935, Swarzenski met Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art of New York (MoMA), at the Parisian gallery of Paul Rosenberg.  At this meeting, Barr asked to borrow Dr. Gachet for a van Gogh retrospective that he was organizing at MoMA. Upon his return to Frankfurt, Swarzenski wrote to the "Ministry in Berlin" requesting permission to lend the painting. The Ministry denied the request. Alfred Wolters, the Nazi-designated successor of Swarzenski as director of the Städtische, dispatched a photograph of Dr. Gachet to Goebbels, at his request. Communication between Wolters and the Ministry focused on paintings in the museum’s collection that could be sold for a profit. Wolters, a close friend of Swarzenski, explained that selling Dr. Gachet would be a terrible loss for the city of Frankfurt. Moreover, it had not been acquired with city funds, but had been a gift of a private citizen, Victor Mössinger. Friedrich Krebs, a vocal opponent of modern art, also wrote to Berlin, asking that the Frankfurt collections should be spared. Dr. Gachet remained safe for the time being, while eleven paintings acquired by Swarzenski for the Städel were confiscated and taken to Munich and displayed at the Degenerate Art show which opened on July 19th, 1937.

On December 1st, 1937, Adolf Ziegler, one of the chief organizers of the Degenerate Art exhibit and a rabid anti-Semite, met Wolters and demanded five more paintings to be delivered to the Propaganda Ministry, including Dr. Gachet.  Stalling for time, Wolters asked the Ministry for an official written request. Wolters was able to buy only a few days. The Portrait of Dr. Gachet was taken out of storage.  It left the museum on December 8, 1937, a move reported in an article published by the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung (FAZ). Johanna, Victor Mössinger ’s wife, read the article and inquired about the painting’s whereabouts. No one knew that the painting had ended up at a Berlin museum depot for "degenerate art" on Köpernickusstrasse, along with tens of thousands of other art works slated to be destroyed. The Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh was number 15,677.