09 January 2020

What happened to the collection of Edouard Esmond?

by Marc Masurovsky

[This is the fourth in a series of articles on the fate of Jewish-owned collections confiscated by the ERR in France and their treatment at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex up to July 1943.]

Edouard Esmond was married to Valentine Deutsch de laMeurthe, closely linked to the Rothschild family. A British-born dandy and socialite living in Paris, Esmond was better known as a breeder of thoroughbred horses, and a golf enthusiast who founded the EsmondCup which he named after himself and his three daughters, also golf pros in their own right. As a matter of fact, Diane Esmond, one of his three daughters, won the Girls’ Golf Championship in 1926 at the age of 16!

The Esmonds lived at 54, avenue d’Iéna, in Paris, one of the most exclusive avenues on the right bank of Paris which feeds into the Place de l’Etoile where stands the “Arc de Triomphe.” Their immediate neighbor (52, avenue d’Iéna) was a colorful man by the name of Calouste Gulbenkian, Armenian-born oil tycoon and consummate art collector, who made his bed with the Germans in the early years of the German occupation of France before fleeing south due to his anglophile tendencies; he ended up in Portugal in late 1942 with the thousands of objects he collected that he was able to spirit out of German-occupied France.

Diane Esmond was born in 1910. Her passion, aside from golf,was art. While in Paris, she trained as a painter with Edouard MacAvoy and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. MacAvoy’s father was a banker and his mother descended from Huguenot nobility. Esmond developed a small following, worked closely with creative artists in the performing arts, and designed stage sets among other things. Pending further research, there are no indications that Esmond’s works were exhibited in galleries in Paris, either in group or solo shows.
Diane Esmond, n.d.
dianeesmond.com

In 1940, the Esmonds fled Paris like so many others. Edouard Esmond died in 1945 and Diane returned to France in 1952. She enjoyed a resurgence as an artist and exhibited in a number of well-known venues in Paris and New York through the 50s and 60s. She died in France in 1981.

The Esmonds had the misfortune of living in a building—54, avenue d’Iéna—which the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) requisitioned to house its French headquartes. All residents of the building-mostly Jewish-had their apartments seized and emptied.

Dr. Wunder, a senior official of the ERR, the main Nazi plundering agency, stationed in Paris through 1943, led a raid on the Esmond residence and removed a large part of the Esmond art collection on June 5, 1941. At some point after their arrival, 13 of the 43 works were registered on ERR cards, 1 of which ended up on the “condemned”/vernichtet list. There is no explanation for why the rest of the Esmond items were not carded. Fifteen months later, on September 7, 1942, Dr. Tomforde, one of the ERR’s art specialists at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex, inventoried 43 objects from the Esmond collection. Based on the Esmond family’s postwar restitution claim, we know that 12 paintings by 18th and 19th century artists were also removed from the family apartment. They included works by Oudry and Sir Alfred Munnings. The question is: who took them and where did they go? They definitely did not get processed at the Jeu de Paume. 
A page from the ESM inventory,
 Bundesarchiv, B323/270, Koblenz

All told, 55 works and objects of art were removed from the Esmond residence during the war. 47 were paintings (43 by Diane Esmond). 30 werecondemned—declared “vernichtet”—all of them works by Diane Esmond. 14 of the 43 paintings were photographed after their arrival at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex, 7 of which ended up being stamped “vernichtet.” This gives us an opportunity to compare the works which were spared and those which were condemned in an attempt to understand the Nazi cultural standards used to select or condemn works of art confiscated from Jewish owners. The photographs were most likely taken shortly after their arrival at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex.

Let’s now try to divine the esthetic choices made by Dr. Tomforde.

The following works by Diane Esmond for which we have photographs were marked “vernichtet”. All of the photographs show the works on an easel, no effort being made to conceal the presence of the easel’s stand from the visual field:


ESM 5: Profile of a woman wearing a hat and a flower 



ESM 6: A still life with grapes. The photo of this painting features the easel on which it was placed.

ESM 19: A painter and his palette at work on a canvas.

ESM 20: Portrait of a “negro child”.

ESM 23: A woman wearing a white blouse. Painting on an easel..

ESM 26: A green landscape—perhaps leaning towards abstraction? The painting is on an easel.

ESM 27: A cabaret scene. Painting on easel



The following seven paintings by Esmond were spared and for which we have photographs. These photos have been cropped to conceal the presence of the easel:

ESM 18: Full-length portrait of a naked woman seen from behind.

ESM 24: A woman playing cards.

ESM 25: A woman with a monkey—however we can’t see the monkey; she is seated inside a well-appointed but cluttered living room staring into space.

ESM 28: A clown, seated on the ground, looking forlorn.


ESM 29: Men at a bar

ESM 30: A scene at the ballet

ESM 31: A clothed man viewed from behind.



What were the underlying Nazi cultural and esthetic standards that drove this apparently capricious selection? What explains the purge of Diane Esmond’s works?

Are we to assume that the selection [Selektion] which took place at the Jeu de Paume was an exercise in curatorial abuse? The only hint of Nazi ideology at work—in the form of racist tropes-could refer to ESM 5, ESM 20 and ESM 23, which portray individuals with “non-European” facial characteristics. In Nazi terms, they were not “Aryan.” However, it’s impossible to understand why a still life with grapes, a painting at work in his studio and a landscape could be assigned the “vernichtet” label while a scene of a woman playing cards, men at a bar, and a clown could be spared from destruction.

Your guess is as good as mine, but I would venture that the selection had little or nothing to do with Nazi cultural dogma, with the possible exception of the three works mentioned above.

Sources: the photographs come from Bundesarchiv, B323/853, in Koblenz, Germany.

08 January 2020

The fate of the collection of Alexandra Pregel, aka Avxente

Alexandra Pregel. 
http://www.bnphoto.org/pregel/home.htm
by Marc Masurovsky

[This is the third installment of the series on the alleged destruction of works of art at the Jeu de Paume in wartime Paris by agents of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR).]

The Auxente/Pregel collection (tagged as AUX by the ERR) consisted largely of works of art produced by a Finnish-born Jewish artist named Alexandra Pregel whose parents were Russian and lived in Helsinki. Ms. Pregel and her parents moved to Paris to feel from Czarist Russia. There, she studied art and began to show her works as of 1932-3, according to Dr. Gauchman, one of the leading experts on Alexandra Pregel’s work. She worked with such luminaries of the exiled Russian avant-garde community as Natalia Gontcharova. Her father had been a minister in the short-lived Kerensky government in 1917-1918. In his honor, she signed her works as Avxente, a contracted form of her patronymic surname, Avkensetev. The Nazis mis-transcribed her name as Auxente, which explains why her confiscated works are inventoried under that name. She took the Pregel name after marrying Boris Pregel in 1937 in Paris. He was a scientist interested in radio-activity. After her marriage, she signed her watercolors and paintings as Pregel.

The Pregels fled to New York in 1940 in advance of the German invasion of Western Europe. Their apartment which also served as Alexandra’s studio at 18, rue Auguste Vacquerie, in the tony 16th arrondissement of Paris. At some point on or before April 2, 1942, the Pregel residence was visited by Nazi agents belonging to the Dienststelle Westen (DW), under Kurt von Behr’s leadership, an off-shoot of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the main plundering agency in territories occupied by the Nazis. The DW had been established in early 1942 for the specific purpose of emptying out Jewish-owned or controlled residences in the Paris region, and, subsidiarily, in Belgian cities, under the aegis of the so-called Möbel-Aktion.

After its seizure, the Auxente/Alexandra Pregel collection was brought to a Dienststelle Westen locale somewhere in Paris. 12 days later, on April 14, 1942, the collection was brought to the Jeu de Paume by two individuals, Mssrs. Mader and Fleischer. As far as we can tell, Herr Mader was the deputy chief of operations for the ERR in Belgium, while Herr Fleischer was the right- hand man and aide-de-camp of Bruno Lohse at the Jeu de Paume in German-occupied Paris. Mader’s involvement with the Auxente collection transfer from the Dienststelle Westen to the Jeu de Paume cannot be readily explained since his main theater of operations was occupied Belgium. But it attests to the intimate links between the French and Belgian operations of the ERR. However, Fleischer’s presence speaks to Bruno Lohse’s interest in the seizure of Pregel’s works, most probably because of her and her husband’s intimate ties to the Russian emigré avant-garde circles, Jewish and non-Jewish, in Paris.

Six months later, on September 14, 1942, Frau Tomforde, one of two ERR staff members assigned to the inventorying of so-called “objectionable” or “degenerate” works stockpiled at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex [see Destruction of works of art, Parts one and two], signed off on the inventory of the Auxente collection. Judging by the paucity and dearth of descriptive information for more than 300 works confiscated by Ms. Pregel—ostensibly, the entire content of her studio--, Ms. Tomforde spent very little time rummaging through the dozens of portfolios containing Pregel’s watercolors and other works on paper. All works by Pregel earned the “vernichtet” label. In other words, all were condemned to be destroyed. Considering the brief titles given by Tomforde to Pregel’s works—still life, woman in red, landscape, etc.--, the decision to purge Pregel’s oeuvre smacks of pure ideological dogma, rather than esthetic considerations. If anything, Pregel was a figurative artist. Her only sin was to be born Jewish with Russian roots.
First page of ERR inventory for AUX.
Source: Bundesarchiv, B323/266
All told, the Auxente collection consisted of close to 370 objects—paintings, including stacks of rolled-up paintings that apparently were not even looked at during the inventorying process, watercolors and other works on paper. Thematically, we can deduce, based on the very terse one or two word descriptions, that they consisted largely of landscapes, portraits, interiors and still lives. Of the 370, 40 were relegated to the art market, leaving 330 condemned to the trash heap.

In sum, the purge of the Auxente/Pregel collection was near-total (90% of Pregel's pre-war production). Oddly enough, the one work not signed by Pregel/Avxente/Auxente was a portrait of noted pacifist author, Blaise Cendrars, attributed to Modigliani (Aux 267). Why was it condemned? Not so much because a Jewish artist painted it but perhaps because of Cendrars’ politics.

To add insult to injury, not a single work was photographed.

05 January 2020

The Destruction of works of art in wartime Paris-Part Two

by Marc Masurovsky

[Continuation of “The Destruction of works of art in wartime Paris-Part One”]

Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) staff members at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex inventoried from July 1942 to March 1943 625 paintings, 48 works on paper, 2 sculptures and one object of unknown media which they deemed objectionable, in that they did not comply with the new standards of Nazi cultural policy, esthetically and thematically, defined by the unholy ideological trinity of the Third Reich—Adolf Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg and Joseph Goebbels. 

Inventories of these “objectionable” works were drawn up in four different periods: 
July 17-30, 1942, 
September 7-14, 1942, 
November 9-17, 1942, 
February-March 12, 1943. 

After the inventories were drawn up, the 676 “condemned” objects were re-crated and transferred to the Louvre storage area (Séquestre du Louvre) to await their fate. On July 21, 1943, they were allegedly lacerated and/or burned to a crisp in a day-long bonfire.

Two ERR staff members were in charge of this reclassification process: Ms. Helga Eggemann and Dr. Tomforde. It is not clear whether they also were charged with attributing the “vernichtet” [to be destroyed] label to these works or if that decision was made at a higher echelon of the ERR administration. Still, the two never saw eye to eye and were bitter rivals. The former was closely aligned with Bruno Lohse, deputy commander of the ERR at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex, while Dr. Tomforde had thrown her lot with her married lover, Dr. von Ingram, chief of operations at the Jeu de Paume who eventually left his first wife to marry Ms. Tomforde, which earned him a quick transfer to the Bavarian ERR depot of Füssen.

As a general reminder, 21 (8.17%) out of 257 Jewish collections officially “processed” by the ERR at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex contained one or more objects deemed objectionable by ERR staff. Those collections most severely affected by Nazi cultural prohibitions were those of four Jewish artists: 

Fedor Loewenstein (100%), 
Alexandra Pregel (83%), 
Michel Georges-Michel (76.5%), 
Diana Esmond-ESM (55%).

This particular phase of execution of Nazi cultural standards at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex affected as a whole the works of 74 artists distributed among four distinct groups (Gruppe(n)). Since there are no policy documents produced by the ERR staff to explain this desire to reclassify the works of “objectionable” artists, I will do my best to present it to you.

Gruppe I
Gruppe I was exclusively concerned with artists who worked in France throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries; none of their works were targeted for destruction. All told, 307 works produced by 87 artists ranging from Delacroix to Ziem and Cross, were consigned to Gruppe I. One third were confiscated during the massive sweeps through Jewish residences under the guise of M-Aktion starting in early 1942, half of which were eventually relegated to the Parisian art market. 60% of the Gruppe I works were shipped to the ERR depot of Nikolsburg in present-day Mikulov, Czech Republic. Only 30 returned to France after 1945.

Gruppe II
Gruppe II was sub-divided into four sub-groups: IIa, IIb, IIc, IId.

Gruppe IIa
470 objects were classified as “Gruppe IIa”. 20 were condemned which came out of the following collections: ESM [Esmond], MA-B, KAP (Kapferer), Loewell (Pierre Loewell), KA (Alphonse Kann), Unb (Unbekannt-Unknown owners) Ros Bern (Rosenberg-Bernstein-Bordeaux), R (Rothschild family). Artists in Gruppe IIa whose works were condemned included: R Dufy, De la Fresnaye, Foujita, Laprade, Larimov/Larionov, Marie Laurencin, Pablo Picasso, Suzanne Valadon, van Dongen.

Gruppe IIb
510 objects were classified as “Gruppe IIb.” 306 (60%) were condemned which came out of the following collections: MGM (Michel Georges-Michel), PE (Hugo Perls), Reichenbach (Bernard and François Reichenbach), ESM (Esmond), Rosenberg Paris (Paul Rosenberg-Paris), Loewell (Pierre Loewell), Spiro (Eugen Spiro), DW (David David-Weill). Artists in Gruppe IIb whose works were condemned included: Charbonnier, Sandi da Salo, Michel Georges-Michel, Girieud, Hummel, Levy, Loewell, Jacqueline Marval, Massis?, HM [maybe Henri Matisse], Mizerour/Mzerow, Hélène Perdriat, Francis Picabia, Retat.

Gruppe Iic
70 objects were classified as “Gruppe IIc.” Three were condemned which came out of the following collections: MA-B, Watson (Peter Watson), KAP (Kapferer). Artists in Gruppe IIc whose works were condemned included: André Masson, Philippe Pereire, Pablo Picasso.

Gruppe IId
70 objects were classified as “Gruppe IId.” 48 were condemned which came out of the following collections: KA (Alphonse Kann), Rosenberg Paris (Paul Rosenberg-Paris), R (Rothschild family), HS (Hugo Simon), Unb (Unbekannt-Unknown owners), Watson (Peter Watson). Artists in Gruppe IId was heavily slanted towards abstractionists and surrealists; it included: Hans Arp, Beaudin, Borès, Charlot, Dali, Derain, Emil?, Max Ernst, Brion Gysin, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, André Masson, Juan Miro, Papazov, Pablo Picasso, E. Ronny, Yves Tanguy.

Gruppe III
36 objects were classified as “Gruppe III.” 18 were condemned which came out of the following collections: KA (Alphonse Kann), MA-B, HS (Hugo Simon), R (Rothschild family), Watson (Peter Watson). Artists in Gruppe III whose works were condemned belonged almost exclusively to a German expressionist club and included: Ernst Barlach, Willy Jaeckel, Erich Heckel, Paul Klee, Larimov/Larionov, Ludwig Meidner, Max Pechstein, Oscar Peters, Christian Rohlfs

Gruppe IV
29 objects were classified as “Gruppe IV.” All 29 were condemned which came out of the following collections: Loewell (Pierre Loewell), Lowenstein (Fedor Lowenstein), KA (Alphonse Kann), R (Rothschild family), Unb (Unbekannt-Unknown owners). Artists in Gruppe IV whose works were condemned consisted of Surrealists, Cubists, Symbolists and Jewish artists: Salvador Dali, J.M.Fenier, Gassier, Lehmann, Loewell, Fedor Lowenstein, Pruna, Prunière, Odilon Redon, Sem.

Several artists like Salvador Dali, André Masson, Pablo Picasso and others ended up in several groups, which might indicate that the ERR staff responsible for this classification system relied more on the content and esthetic mechanics of the works themselves than on the identity and label of the artist whose works were impugned. Put another way, Jewish identity was not enough to have your work “condemned.” Other factors were considered when deciding what to “destroy” and what to spare.

In Part three, I will address specific collections and try to grasp the logic behind the “purge.”

Sources: Bundesarchiv, B323 series at Koblenz; ERR Jeu de Paume database

03 January 2020

The destruction of works of art in wartime Paris--Part One

by Marc Masurovsky

This is the first in a series of articles detailing the selective impact of Nazi cultural policy at the Jeu de Paume museum between September 1940 and July 1944. During that time period, the Jeu de Paume served as a central clearinghouse for artistic, cultural and religious objects confiscated from Jewish collectors in Paris and other parts of France.

One nagging question which has not received an adequate answer is the extent to which Nazi cultural policies, strictly enforced inside the Greater German Reich, were equally applied in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

If Adolf Hitler’s views about art were to be followed to the letter, any artistic object produced after the 1850s (emergence of Impressionism) would be subjected to intense scrutiny by Nazi agents operating in occupied lands, leading inevitably to seizure and confiscation (which happened in any event), censorship (recurrent but not systematic), and/or destruction.

Let’s focus on German-occupied France. There, the machinery of cultural plunder operated as follows.

Jewish collections of objects of cultural, religious and artistic value and significance became the target of confiscations orchestrated by a number of Nazi agencies, most notably the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the Kunstchutz (cultural arm of the German military administration) and assorted security agencies and police forces (Devisenschutzkommando, Gestapo, SD, etc).

Tens of thousands of objects seized in and around Paris, sometimes from as far as cities and towns in the French Southwest, were stored in a number of facilities and depots scattered about the French capital but mostly centered in its wealthier Western neighborhoods, the most important of which was the cluster comprised of the Jeu de Paume museum and three rooms provided by the Louvre Museum as a storage annex to the Jeu de Paume.

At least 20000 confiscated objects were transferred to the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex beween 1940-1944. There, roughly 25 per cent of them were photographed, eh vast majority were inventoried, carded and assigned an ID number. ERR staff members decided which objects to transfer to the Reich, which ones should remain in occupied France and which ones should be sold and/or exchanged for “acceptable” works, namely Old Masters.

In order for the staff members of the ERR at the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume to implement Nazi cultural policies, they had to set aside those objects which did not conform to official esthetic and ideological dicta which distinguished between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” or “degenerate” art. Hitler even insisted that no French Impressionist works could enter the German Reich, irrespective of quality and value.

What happened to the objects that were set aside? Two scenarios were contemplated: either offer them for sale to local art dealers and perhaps even dealers in neighboring countries (Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain), or destroy them.

In July 1942, almost two years after the Germans invaded France, works of art not meeting Hitler’s strict esthetic and ideological considerations were inventoried separately, some of them having wallowed at the Jeu de Paume/Louvre complex since late 1940. They were subjected to a separate inventory, reassigned to new categories (Gruppe I, Gruppe II, Gruppe III, Gruppe IV), and crated separately while their fate was being decided. That process lasted until March 1943. At some point during or after this process, a decision was made to get rid of these objects after having gone through the tedium of inventorying and crating.

At least 625 paintings, 48 works on paper, two sculptures (one by Ernst Barlach and the other by Hans Arp) and one of uncertain medium (Friedrich Unger) were set aside and inventoried. Rose Valland, a French curator ordered by Louvre officials to remain at the Jeu de Paume to be the eyes and ears of the French museum administration inside the very museum where she had spent her days prior to June 1940, testified after the war that ERR staff members destroyed these objects by repeated laceration and cremated them with the help of German soldiers in a day-long bonfire on July 21, 1943. Although she witnessed some of the lacerations, she did not witness the bonfire.

The jury is still out about the bonfire having consumed hundreds of “unacceptable” works of art.

After having carefully examined the archival documentation that retraces in minute details the processing of these objects at the Jeu de Paume, we know the following:

-None of the works classified as Impressionist, Pointillist, or Fauvist, were condemned and “destroyed”.

-No work explicitly tagged as “Jude” [Jewish] by artists like Camille Pissarro and Marc Chagall was condemned and “destroyed”.

In other words, Nazi cultural policy somewhat fell apart at this moment and shifted gears, judging “unacceptable” works by their esthetic value and not by the origins of their creators.

Of the 257 collections which were carded and/or inventoried at the Jeu de Paume, 21 collections contained one or more objects which were deliberately set aside for “destruction” (vernichtet).

ERR ID                          Description of collection                                 Numbers “destroyed”

Aux                                   Auxente/Avxente/Alexandra Pregel                                  181
DW                                   David David-Weill                                                                 1
ESM                                  Edouard Esmond                                                                 30
HS                                     Hugo Simon                                                                         12
KA                                    Alphonse Kann                                                                     25
KAP                                  Mrs. Kapferer                                                                         6
L.H                                    Levi-Hermannos                                                                    1
Loewell                             Pierre Loewell                                                                        8
Loewenstein                      Fedor Loewenstein                                                               20
MA-B                                Möbel-Aktion Bilder                                                            13
MGM                                 Michel Georges-Michel                                                     298
PE                                      Hugo Perls                                                                              5
Reichenbach                      François Reichenbach                                                            1
Rosenberg Bernstein         Paul Rosenberg [Bordeaux area]                                            1
Rosenberg Paris                 Paul Rosenberg [Floirac/Paris]                                            14
R                                Members of the French branch of the Rothschild family               8
Spira                                   Mr. Spira                                                                                 1
Spiro                                   Eugen Spiro                                                                          18
U                                         Friedrich Unger                                                                      4
UNB                                   Unbekannt                                                                             18
Watson                               Peter Watson                                                                            9

In Part two, we wil begin the discussion of each collection and the artists who did not make the cut, so to speak.

Sources: 
Records from the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, RG 260
Records of the Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, series B323